IT may not have been the perfect return to action for Sheffield Steelers defenceman Rod Sarich but, on a personal level, he was understandably delighted to be in the thick of it once again, writes Phil Harrison.
Friday night ended on a low note for Sarich and his team-mates after Elite League title rivals Belfast Giants snatched the extra point in a 3-2 win following a shoot-out. One of the plus-points for the home side, however, was the performance of the 30-year-old Canadian after three-and-a-half months on the sidelines.
In the days after suffering a freak injury to one of his kidneys back in November, most people wrote Sarich’s season off, not expecting him to pull on a Steelers jersey until September.
And after the initial fear of losing his kidney had subsided there were still many doubters - including his own doctor - who believed a return before the end of the 2011-12 campaign would be too much to ask.
But, once his first shift was completed in Friday night’s 3-2 defeat to Belfast at the Motorpoint Arena, all the fears of those around him - and those of the Steelers’ fans who gave him such a rapturous reception in the team introduction - were swiftly dispelled.
And there will also have been a sigh of relief from inside the No 19 shirt to have come through the evening unscathed.
“It didn’t take long to get back into it really, “ said Sarich, who is expected to return for an eighth season with the Steelers. “I was maybe a bit tentative on the first shift, but I was okay after that I think.
“I’ve still got to do some work on my stamina because towards the end of shifts my legs would feel pretty heavy but, saying that, that can happen even when you’re in the best of shape.
“It does take a lot out of you. I had some extra padding on which made it even hotter out there when you’re skating around which isn’t what you need but, it serves a purpose.
“I got caught out of position a few times, but you’re going to make a few mistakes in your first game back - I’ve been sitting on the couch for three-and-a-half months. So, personally it went as good as it could have done - we just didn’t get the result we wanted.”
Sarich said the narrow defeat changed little in terms of the title race because Steelers were still, effectively, in control of their own destiny, with three games in hand a double header weekend in Belfast on March 16-17.
“We need to make sure we don’t slip up anywhere else and that we are still in with a shout of winning the title when we go over there for the double header in a couple of weeks time,” added Sarich.
“We’re up against it a little bit but it’s not unachievable. If you look at last year, we had a bit of a lead going down the final stretch but Cardiff and Belfast kept the pressure up right until the final game. We need to do the same as they did.”