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Nelson Nogier was moving up the organizational depth chart, seemingly on the cusp of an NHL breakthrough and knocking on the door of full-time work.
It came crashing down last fall, thanks to a major injury suffered on his first shift of his first exhibition game of the new season. What was going to be the most important year of his young career ended up being spent mostly on the sidelines.
“Injuries are something players go through on a yearly and daily basis. It’s just a matter of turning that page, working through it and moving past it” – Moose defenceman and Jets hopeful Nelson Nogier
The young defenceman went from opening so many eyes in his rookie season to essentially being completely out of sight.
“It was definitely frustrating. It’s not something any player wants to go through,” Nogier, 22, told the Free Press following a recent skate at Bell MTS Iceplex with several other young prospects of the Winnipeg Jets.
The Saskatoon product, selected in the fourth round (101st overall) of the 2014 draft, is now hoping to put a lost season behind him and get back to the kind of play that earned him a 10-game audition for the Jets in the late stages of the 2016-17 season when the big club was bitten by the injury bug. He didn’t disappoint, playing smart, physical hockey. Nogier also put up two goals and 11 assists in 60 games with the Moose in his first year out of junior.
“As a lot of people know, that’s part of the game. Injuries are something players go through on a yearly and daily basis. It’s just a matter of turning that page, working through it and moving past it,” said Nogier, a right-shot blue-liner who stands 6-1 and weighs 191 pounds.
He knew it was bad as soon as he took the rather innocent-looking hit during that pre-season game with the Moose in Grand Forks, N.D. Nogier had suffered the same shoulder injury while playing in the Western Hockey League for his hometown Saskatoon Blades during his draft year.
“It was pretty well the mirror image of the first injury. I knew pretty much what I was getting myself into,” Nogier said.
He had surgery and spent nearly six months treating and rehabilitating the shoulder and was able to join the Moose late last year, getting in 13 regular-season games, recording just one assist and struggling at times to keep up with the pace. He admits he was nowhere near the same player, which explains why he was a healthy scratch for all but two playoff games.
“It’s not easy. You miss 63 games in a row and you’re playing against guys who have played the entire season. It was a little bit faster than what you expect. Obviously, it didn’t go the way that I wanted it to at the end of the season, but I think in the big picture as far as my recovery goes it was really important, mentally, for me to be able to get in those games and know that I can play before coming into this camp coming up,” Nogier said.
The Jets, and Moose, wanted to ensure Nogier didn’t stop learning just because he couldn’t play. So, after an initial period of recovery at home in Saskatchewan, Nogier was a constant presence around the AHL club, sitting in on meetings and video sessions.
“I think that was really important for me, as far as keeping my mind healthy and trying to stay sane in a sense as well,” he said. “The coaching staff — Pascal (Vincent), Eric Dubois and Marty (Johnston) — they all took really good care of me as far as keeping me involved. I said a huge thanks to them for doing that.”
Naturally, the question of how comfortable Nogier feels with his twice-injured shoulder came up.
“I’m extremely confident in the way that it is. I’ve had great hands working on me since day one, I’m super happy with how it feels right now. This summer was very important… and I think we’re ready to go here,” he said. “Pretty much missing the entirety of last year, that’s a lot of time missed. When you’re removed from the game for that long, it adds a lot of excitement for the new season to come.”
Nogier was on the ice a lot more this off-season than usual, not having the same mileage on his body that teammates would have wanted to recover from. He’s not putting any pressure on himself this coming season in terms of expectations.
“I think it’s just making sure I take care of myself, stay healthy and leave everything out on the ice. Control what I can control and let the rest take care of itself,” he said. “I think this injury is just a little bump in the road. I don’t want to look too far ahead, I just have to keep myself healthy and just keep taking it day by day.”
Nogier’s summer also included participating in Humboldt Hockey Day last month, a humbling experience for someone who actually knew several of the Broncos players killed and injured in the horrific bus crash earlier this year.
“It definitely hit a bit more home for me. It was nice to be a part of it and be able to give back and put some smiles on people’s faces,” Nogier said of the event, in which nearly two dozen pro players visited the community along with the Stanley Cup.
“It’s remarkable to see the support that that team and that community has had. It really just goes to show how tight-knit and how small the hockey community really is.
“You kind of take a step back and realize hockey is just a game. There’s more to life than just hockey. But in the same breath, it’s kind of hard to put into words, but it kind of makes you feel warm inside to know that it’s kind of an honour and a privilege to be part of the hockey community. It makes you be thankful at the end of the day.”
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Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.