ST. PAUL — Wild defenseman Greg Pateryn started last season with sports hernia surgery shortly after training camp and ended it with back surgery a month before the playoffs.
Needless to say, he is excited finally to be back at TRIA Rink as the Wild prep for their Jan. 14 season opener against the Kings in Los Angeles. It has been a long road back.
“It was definitely exciting to get in here the first time and be able to skate again,” Pateryn said. “Just to be around the guys again is really exciting and something I really looked forward to.”
He was able to play just 20 games last season after returning from the sports hernia he suffered on the first day of training camp. While the timing of that injury was frustrating, it paled in comparison to his other injury over the summer.
After the season paused due to COVID concerns, Pateryn continued to work out to stay in shape for the playoffs. Everything was going fine until he woke up in excruciating pain in the middle of the night. The sensation started in his back and shot down his leg. It would stop for several hours at a time only to return unannounced.
“I had some tests done and figured out what the issue was, and luckily I got it resolved,” Pateryn said. “I feel better than I have in a few years. I’m happy that I’ve had the time to square things away and get things back to 100%.”
Now that Pateryn is 100% again, he is focused on bringing a physical presence to a skillful blue line. He has been skating alongside fellow defenseman Carson Soucy during training camp, and that duo figures to start this season as the bottom pairing.
“I’m going in with the mentality that there’s not going to be much feeling it out,” Pateryn said. “Personally, I’m coming out ready to go, and I think a lot of the guys have the same mentality. I feel confident in my body, and I feel confident in my game. Just sticking to what I do and trying to thrive in that role.”
There are a couple of intrasquad scrimmages coming up this weekend, and coach Dean Evason wants them to feel as close to an actual game as possible. He said the plan is to play 15-minute stop-time periods. That means there will be a winner and a loser.
In addition, the Wild plan to splice in some extra work on the power play as a way to ensure their players get all the necessary live reps. That’s been a point of emphasis throughout training camp, and will continue to be throughout the season.
“We will actually work in the game situation on our power play,’ Evason said. “We think that’s more important. We’ll still have a competitive game. We’ll still have all of that for the competition of the 5 on 5. We just want to really work (on the power play).”
For players who have been through a lockout season in the past, this 56-game schedule will feel similar. That’s how veteran center Nick Bonino is approaching this.
Perhaps the biggest difference in 2020 will be the various COVID restrictions in place. Players visiting hot spots in cities on road trips won’t be an option.
“You’re pretty much in the hotel room or at the rink,” Bonino said. “You’re not going out for coffees. You’re not going for dinners. Just a lot of down time. It’s about staying positive and staying busy and making sure when the puck drops that’s where our mind is.”