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Veteran defense return to ice

MacDonald, Mottau and Eaton return to Islanders blue line

Wednesday, 09.28.2011 / 4:59 PM ET / News
By Dyan LeBourdais
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Veteran defense return to ice
Last season, Islanders defensemen Mike Mottau and Mark Eaton went down with nearly identical hip injuries. Both required surgery, which they underwent a week apart last January at the same clinic in Vail, CO. Nine months later, their rehabilitation has long been over and the defensemen are looking to skate off the rust before the puck drops on October 8.

“In general, I would probably feel rusty in my first preseason game anyways,” Mottau said about playing against Boston in the Islanders first exhibition of 2011. “I felt good physically. Some of the stuff that defensemen have to face in game situations, you can’t really duplicate in practice.”

He added, “So it was good to get into some of those situations and try to read and react, move unpredictably, have guys lean on you and go back for a puck under pressure, certain little things that happen all the time in game situations.”

The following night, Eaton got to play in his first exhibition game against the Devils.

“I hadn’t played an NHL game since early January, so I knew there was going to be some rust there,” Eaton said. “I just wanted to go out there and play smart.”

Mark Eaton skates with the puck against Scott Parse #21 of the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on November 13, 2010. (Photo by Noah Graham/NHLI via Getty Images)
Knowing that two players from his defensive core – three if you include Andrew MacDonald – are returning to the game after a long absence, Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano has let Eaton and Mottau settle in. Capuano's making sure they’ve taken the necessary precautions to return to the lineup healthy so that they’ll be able to make an impact when it counts.

“Up until this point, I’m really happy with those two guys and the way they’ve held up,” Capuano said. “They seem to be getting stronger and stronger every day.”

Eaton and Mottau weren’t the only two players who underwent hip surgery last season. MacDonald went under the knife in March and is approaching his timeline for return to game action.

“We had the initial plan set out to be ready for the start of the season and we pretty much stuck to that the whole summer,” MacDonald said. “We made sure we gave it time to rest and that’s why I haven’t played in any preseason games so far, but I anticipate this weekend I’ll probably get in one. If not, it doesn’t matter. I’ll be ready for the start of the season.”

These guys haven’t left a stone unturned when it comes to the effort they’ve put into their rehabilitation. Physical therapy started just 12 hours after waking up post-surgery.

“The philosophy out in Vail is really aggressive rehab right away,” Mottau said. “The physical therapist was doing some manual movement. So it really started from day one.”

Returning to Long Island after surgery, the defensemen began attending daily morning sessions at a local physical therapy office. By the end of June, Eaton and Mottau’s rehabilitation was nearly complete and they returned home for the summer to start the re-strengthening process. MacDonald followed suit a few weeks later.

“Then I started hitting the ice again,” Eaton said. “That’s where the hockey part of the process came back into play, but the hockey part is broken into different phases as well. There’s the part where you have to get back on the ice, get the motion and getting the skating strength back. Then there’s coming to training camp, practices and games where it’s a whole different ball game with battling and putting yourself in stressful situations.”

The difficult part of the rehab was the mental side of it. It was nine weeks on crutches, non-weight bearing. That was difficult for me, the pain wasn’t bad, but the inability to pick up my kids or bringing the cereal bowl to the table and the little things you don’t think of. When you have the four kids, it’s difficult to go through day-to-day on crutches. - Mike Mottau
Going through this kind of surgery affects more than your body and your muscles, it affects your mental state and your lifestyle.

“The difficult part of the rehab was the mental side of it,” Mottau said. “It was nine weeks on crutches, non-weight bearing. That was difficult for me, the pain wasn’t bad, but the inability to pick up my kids or bringing the cereal bowl to the table and the little things you don’t think of. When you have the four kids, it’s difficult to go through day-to-day on crutches.”

For Eaton and Mottau, using each other to push themselves or discuss how they were feeling through every step of their recovery was a big motivator.

MacDonald’s road to recovery was somewhat unique; his recovery was foreshadowed by Eaton and Mottau’s rehabilitation.

“It was good to see how they had progressed. I’m not sure exactly what week they were at when I was there, but they were a good two months into their rehab when I was first starting, so to see where they were at when I first started, was definitely promising.”

Andrew MacDonald skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 11, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
Now that the season is approaching quickly, Eaton and Mottau are glad to be back with the team, competing in exhibitions and testing their limits.

“Coming in to camp I feel good,” Mottau said. “The daily rigors of training camp with the off-ice and the on-ice intensity, it’s been a great test and I feel great.”

Eaton said, “My game is coming. The rust is gradually coming off, still a little there, but that’s something that playing these next couple exhibition games should take care of and I’ll be ready to go for next Saturday.”

Now just one more defenseman waits for his opportunity to play. MacDonald is looking forward to shaking off the rust in one of the Islanders final two exhibition games this weekend.

“I missed the first few days of camp, so I kind of missed out on the opportunity to shake the rust off a little,” MacDonald said. “These last few days have been my opportunity to do that. I’m anxious to get out there and into a game.”




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