With each passing day, Patrick Wiercioch is feeling more and more like his old self.
And that's definitely good news for a guy who likely now appreciates the game he loves more than he ever has.
Now packing 210 pounds on his 6-4 frame, the Ottawa Senators defence prospect has taken huge strides this summer on the road back from a scary incident back in December, when he took a puck in the throat during an American Hockey League game against the Norfolk Admirals.
Working alongside Senators conditioning coach Chris Schwarz and centre Kyle Turris — and old buddy going back to their minor hockey days in the Vancouver area — the 21-year-old Wiercioch feels stronger than he has in months. When he finished the 2011-12 season with the Binghamton Senators, his weight had slipped to 189 pounds.
"This summer's been huge," Wiercioch said following a skate earlier today at the Bell Sensplex. "Working with Schwarzy and retooling, it's been huge. It's a considerable amount of weight to put on over the course of the summer ... but it's been progressive. It's been one or two pounds a week or every two weeks. It hasn't been a jump from one period or another. It's been slow, it's been progressive, it's been a process since the end of May.
"That's something (the Senators) wanted me to do, to put in the time, put in the effort and I think it's been really good. Both Kyle and I have really benefited from working with Schwarzy in the weight room and off the ice, too."
Having Turris alongside him is always a plus, he added.
"It's really good," said Wiercioch, a second-round pick by the Senators in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. "We train together back home in B.C. during the summers, but it's a lot easier here when you use the (team) facilities and the trainers are here to set up your workouts every morning. So it's nice to have that and hopefully, that'll transfer into success."
While Wiercioch did return to the B-Sens lineup seven weeks after the mishap, the thoughts of what he went through aren't far from mind. He described the damage at the time as "a pretty serious fracture in the back of my neck" with "a lot of internal bleeding that was cause for a lot of panic and concern."
"It was a while," he said of the road back. "When you're living it, you don't really think about how serious it was. But once you can move a step past it and reflect on it, and you see how serious it was and what could have happened from it ... there's definitely things that you struggle with daily.
"You're still at that point where you feel lucky to be alive. Hopefully, something like this doesn't ever happen to me again, yet alone anyone else."
For the first two weeks after it happened, he couldn't speak at all. During an interview with the Ottawa Citizen back in May, Wiercioch said some doctors told him a year away from the game might be necessary to fully recover.
But here he is now, working toward another season and savouring every moment of it.
"I think you always appreciate the game because it's fun and it's something that you love to do," said Wiercioch. "But when something like that happens and it could be taken away from you that quickly, then you realize how fragile you are."
Wiercioch can also talk confidently at making a push toward landing a spot on the Senators blue line, where there might be a vacancy available.
"The team's moving forward with a young core and hopefully, I can be a part of that young core," he said. "When I get that opportunity, I have to make it count and go from there."
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