WHILE there was plenty of frustration at being on sat the sidelines, Sheffield Steelers’ Colton Fretter always remained focus on the moment he would return to the ice.
That moment - at least in a competitive sense - came on Wednesday night at Ice Sheffield when Cardiff Devils paid a visit.
It ended with a deserved 2-1 victory for Paul Thompson’s team, who were only denied a shutout with less than two minutes remaining.
Naturally, there was always going to be plenty of focus on Fretter - given it was his first game since October 14 against Edinburgh Capitals, another midweek game at Steelers’ back-up home.
The 33-year-old Ontario-born forward was subsequently diagnosed with a sports hernia after the 5-4 defeat to the Capitals and, soon after, was taken in for surgery.
Head coach Thompson has made no secret of the fact he is a big admirer of the second-season import and, by coincidence, Fretter’s absence did coincide with a mini-slump in form for the defending Elite League champions, although the biggest problem came at the back end with a spell of 10 games seeing them concede 43 goals.
But the victory over Cardiff on Wednesday night saw a return to the solid, physical brand of hockey which Steelers had displayed at the start of the domestic campaign when they won eight of their first nine games.
A big part of the reason for success against the Devils was Fretter who, after missing 11 games, was not afraid to jump right back in and put his body on the line.
“There was a little rust on the stick and the skates, but I just went out there and tried to get in the game, making some hits and making some plays,” said Fretter.
“The biggest thing was that we got the win.
“I couldn’t really skate for a while (because of the injury) and there’s nothing like skating. You can ride a bike, go for a jog but there isn’t really anything to simulate the motion of a stride.
“Then to get into a game and start hitting again - it takes a lot out of you, so it will take a few games to get back up to speed, but I’m just happy to be back.
“Skating isn’t the easiest thing to mimic and I could only start skating a week ago and the recovery went fast and the coach figured we could jump right back into it and that is the best way to learn.
“Against Cardiff we really tightened up in the neutral zone, we made it hard for them to get in and that was a really crucial thing for us on the night.”
As for Thompson, he was delighted to get a player he regards as key to his team’s hopes of silverware this season.
“You have to tip your hat to him,” said Thompson. “He came back early because we needed him. From the first shift to the last he made a difference, we are a better team with him in it.
“I’ve made my thoughts on Colton known from day one. I looked forward to working with him before the year started, he is a difference maker.
“Now we have this injury repaired we can look forward to seeing the best of him once he is back to full game shape.
“He has worked incredibly hard to get back this soon, his commitment is outstanding and we all appreciate his efforts and work.”
Steelers return to action in Cardiff on Saturday night before returning home to face Braehead Clan in another game at Ice Sheffield on Sunday.
Thompson will be hoping his team can avoid a repeat of last Saturday’s goal frenzy in Glasgow when they edged out the Clan 9-8 after a shoot-out.