Blake Siebenaler rallying after season-ending injury in Cleveland
Last season was supposed to be Blake Siebenaler’s big year. The Fort Wayne product entered the second year of his three-year contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets excited about his chances to improve and showcase what he had learned as a rookie with the American Hockey League’s Cleveland Monsters. This was his chance to prove he was a real NHL prospect.
But as prepared as Siebenaler was, the season never had the chance to match his expectations. He suffered a shoulder injury in November that knocked him out of the lineup for six weeks. After extensive rehab, he came back but was knocked out again, this time for good, with a labrum injury in the same shoulder on Feb. 9. Within two weeks the defenseman had major reconstructive surgery and finished the season with three goals and six points, the same numbers he put up in 43 games as a rookie.
“It was my first major injury and my first surgery so it was pretty tough,” Siebenaler said. “I was pretty devastated.”
For six weeks he couldn’t do anything but think about what happened, and try to learn to deal with it. When the Monsters went on a long road trip, he even came home to Fort Wayne for two weeks, something he can’t remember ever doing. He didn’t want to talk about it, think about it and there was nothing he was allowed to do physically for the longest six weeks of his hockey career.
“The worst part was I’m so used to being in the gym,” he said. “I really enjoy being in the gym, and even at the start of the summer, I couldn’t do anything upper body. Sometimes I was pretty down on myself about it, but then I thought about guys who have had major surgery on their hips or knees, and how they were able to come back from those.”
He didn’t have to be at the rink, but Siebenaler said he still went in to hang out with his teammates. Every injured player will say they don’t feel like a regular part of the team, and that they don’t like to be a distraction to the players who are in the lineup. They feel useless.
But part of being a professional athlete is learning how to deal with injuries. Handling them is a skill as much as learning a skill on the ice, and perhaps is even harder because it’s all mental. Siebenaler now understands more about himself for going through the process.
“I learned to be as positive as possible,” he said. “If you get real down on yourself, you’re just going to feed the negative thoughts and not do yourself any favors. A lot of people don’t know how mentally tough a hockey season is. The quicker you learn to be mentally prepared… you almost have to be more mentally prepared than physically.”
The first time he was able to skate again, Siebenaler said he felt tremendous, but the second time…
“Then reality kicked in,” he said with a laugh. “My body was saying, `Well, buddy, you haven’t been skating in three months.’ I almost died out there. Everything was off, my passing, my timing. I was skating with 12-year-olds, and I couldn’t make a pass to them.”
Now he’s tired of waiting and excited about a trip to Columbus next week for an informal camp. He’s going into the last year of his contract, and essentially, he has nothing to lose coming off the injury.
“I feel like I have a lot to prove and I’m ready to go,” he said. “From my exit meetings last year, they seemed pretty confident in me. They want me to play my game and keep it simple. A lot of guys do too much out there, and that’s when they get into trouble. It’s strange how the higher you go, the more simple you play and the better off you’ll be.”
He said the coaches are telling him to keep repeating the phrase, “Keep it stupid simple,” a play off “Keep it simple, stupid.”
Siebenaler is so close to making it through to the other side of his first major injury and knows he’ll be a better, smarter player because of it.
“I can’t wait to get back into the swing of things, practices, games, traveling,” Siebenaler said. “I’m ready to go. I know that once the season starts and I get back into things, I’ll be skating and all this will be behind me. It’s always in my head right now. I can’t wait to be fully recovered and not have to think about it anymore.”