Sat Apr 21 06:53pm EDT
Moose Jaw Warriors defenceman Morgan Rielly started this season on a roll. He notched an impressive three goals and 18 points throughout his first 18 games. He seemed to be bound for a breakout season that could have ultimately emerged the 18-year-old as the top blueliner of the 2012 draft crop.
Unfortunately for Rielly, his promising season was derailed. He tore his ACL in a game against the Calgary Hitmen on November 6. There was undoubtedly a possibility that he could return this season. However, no one knew for certain if he would be able to fully recovery from his knee injury before year's end.
"When Morgan suffered the injury and the surgery was set in place we built a time frame and schedule for his rehab," says Warriors director of hockey operations Alan Millar. "We didn't know 100 percent if Morgan would return this year. We just knew if his rehab went as planned and we could make it far in the playoffs, then there would be a strong possibility."
This strong possibility turned into a reality this past Friday when Rielly rejoined the Warriors in game one of their Eastern Conference finals matchup against the Edmonton Oil Kings. Rielly didn't skip a beat, adding a helper on the Warriors' lone goal in their 6-1 loss.
Rielly's return to Moose Jaw's lineup entailed a lot of hard work. He worked vigorously during his rehab to speed up his recovery. Without this impeccable work ethic, Rielly would still be on the sidelines.
"Morgan showed great work ethic during his rehab," says Millar. "He worked hard every day and was very motivated to return to the ice. He also showed patience. He skated with us for two months before finally returning. He felt he was ready against the (Medicine Hat) Tigers, but we had a plan and a timeline and we stuck by that."
Rielly's injury woes were not only physically tough on him, but also mentally. The Vancouver native struggled to accept he was going to miss a major chunk of hockey in one of the most important years of his major junior career.
"It was really hard at first when I found out how big this injury was," says Rielly. "It was tough not to be able to help my team win and not to be able to be out on the ice every day. I worked really hard in the offseason and it just didn't seem fair."
The 6-foot, 197-pounder is now focused on helping the Warriors advance to the MasterCard Memorial Cup. A task that won't be easy with the Oil Kings and the Western Conference's best standing in their way.
"Now that I feel great and am healthy I want to become a major contributor for the Warriors," says Rielly. "We want to win it all this year. We can't underestimate the Oil Kings, though. They are a really good team, but I know we got the right group of guys that can go all the way."
Despite being sidelined for the majority of this season, Rielly is still regarded as one of the top defenders of the 2012 draft class. He was recently ranked sixth among North American skaters by NHL's Central Scouting Service's final rankings, second to Everett Silvertips' Ryan Murray among defencemen.
"I try not to pay attention to those things," says Rielly. "But being injured for that long I thought I might drop in those rankings. It is nice to see they are high on me."
The five questions
1. Do you try to model your game after a defenceman in the NHL?
"I really like how (Pittsburgh Penguins') Kris Letang plays. He is a very skilled defenceman who moves the puck well and also is good in his own end."
2. Who's your favourite NHL team?
"The Vancouver Canucks. I like them because I'm from there (Vancouver). I grew up watching them play."
3. What part of your game do you feel you need to work on the most?
"I need to work on my entire game. But I think I need to take extra time to work on my play in the corners and in tight areas."
4. What is your favourite song or band to listen to before a game?
"I like listening to the Black Keys. I really like upbeat songs before a game, anything that's high tempo."
5. If you could go out to supper with anyone in the world, who would it be?
"That is a tough one. I think I'd choose (former NHL defenceman) Paul Coffey. I'd just like to hear his old hockey stories and stuff he struggled with when he was a young player. I've always liked him and looked up to him."
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen