HAVING missed half of the season through what, it has to be said, was a slightly bewildering injury, the Elite League play-off finals weekend can’t come soon enough for Sheffield Steelers’ John Armstrong.
The 30-year-old centre injured tendons in his finger when it got caught in his jersey during a fight in Steelers’ 5-0 win against Nottingham Panthers in late December.
Following surgery, Armstrong was informed he would need to be out for around 12 weeks and would only be properly recovered in time for the EIHL play-offs.
It meant he missed the crucial part of the regular season run-in as well as the second stage of the Steelers’ Continental Cup campaign which saw them end in the bronze medal position.
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To say Armstrong’s time out on the sidelines was frustrating would be something of an understatement, but he was able to return slightly ahead of schedule when back in the line-up for the final two games of the regular season.
Coupled with impressive performances in last week’s quarter-final win over Guildford Flames - in which he scored a memorable end-to-end solo goal in the first leg - Armstrong is determined to end the season on a similar high by repeating last year’s play-off triumph at the National Ice Centre.
“Having been out for so long, this weekend is going to mean so much to me,” said Armstrong. “When I was sitting out with my injury, you kind of realise how much you miss the game and how much you love the game.
“Last year, that play-off final win was one of the best moments of my hockey career and I want to have that feeling again.”
At the time of his injury, Armstrong was among the Steelers top performers as well as point producers and, it could be argued, he would likely have finished the regular season as the team’s top goalscorer if he had not suffered his mishap.
Since returning to action, his value to the team has been made clear with eight points in four games, including three goals across the two legs against Guildford.
“It’s been good since I came back from the injury,” added Armstrong. “I’m glad I got a couple of games in before the quarter-final.
“It does take a little bit of time to get the rust out and get the timing back. And I kind of went from zero to 100 with my hand, so my strength wasn’t really there at first but, everyday, it is getting better and better.
When I was sitting out with my injury, you kind of realise how much you miss the game and how much you love the game.Sheffield Steelers’ John Armstrong
“That final against Cardiff last year was something pretty special, particularly for the fans and while it was stressful for us it was also exciting too.”
But before thoughts can turn to the final, Armstrong needs to help his team get there by winning against the same team and at the same venue where he suffered his injury.
“Every game against Nottingham is huge and a play-off weekend game against the Panthers just makes it even bigger,” he said. “The building is going to be nuts - our fans and their fans will be going crazy. It means a lot to the guys in the room and the organisation to beat Nottingham.”