Tyrell to get back to ice at prospects camp

By Scott Mitchell

Dana Tyrell can open his eyes; the nightmare is over.

Last December, everything was falling into place for the rugged forward that the Tampa Bay Lightning chose with the 47th pick of the 2007 entry draft. He was leading his young Prince George Cougars team in scoring with 19 goals and 21 assists in 30 games, only six goals off his 2007-08 pace of 25. He had also locked down a spot on Pat Quinn’s Team Canada squad at the World Juniors that was set to defend gold on home ice in Ottawa.

It was all coming together for the then 19-year-old. Then, he did what he does best. Finish off a body check against Sweden in an exhibition tune up before the real games started in Ottawa.

“Honestly, I didn’t even feel anything,” Tyrell said of the hit. “I don’t remember much. I hit the guy normally and I felt a little something on both sides of my knee. I skated back to the bench and the doctor took me aside and told me that something was wrong. It was a harmless play.”

A completely torn ACL and a partially torn MCL later and Tyrell was sidelined for six to eight months, effectively ending his WHL career and denying him the chance to contribute to Canada’s victory on skates.

Tyrell had surgery in late January after the Dec. 18 hit and struggled mentally during the first couple months of rehab, waiting almost two months before being able to jog.

“It was definitely more mental than physical for me,” he said. “It was long. It was a six-month rehab and it definitely took its toll on me. The hardest part was being away from a team atmosphere and just not being able to play with the guys. It was a completely different life to me, I guess. Usually I’m playing hockey and working out all the time, but I didn’t have much to do I just kind of had to let me knee heal and find ways to occupy myself.”

But the last two months have been smooth sailing for the notoriously hard-working Tyrell.

He has been skating four times a week in preparation for Tampa Bay’s Young Guns camp that opens Wednesday, July 8 at the St. Pete Times Forum, and is looking forward to showing everyone he is a better player than the last time they saw him in December.

“After the injury it’s been a tough go for the last six months or so, but I’m glad where things are right now and I’m just looking forward to camp here,” Tyrell said while sitting in an Airdrie, Alberta coffee shop with a prominent scar on his right knee. “I’m excited to go in and show them that I didn’t take any steps back, but I took some steps forward.”

However, there is a bit of nervousness that he needs to get out of his system.

“A little bit, yeah,” he said when asked if he was nervous. “I haven’t played hockey since Christmas time. It’s been the longest I’ve been off skates and haven’t played in a game in probably my whole career. But I’m looking forward to it.”

His speed has returned, but the contact is what he’s looking forward to most.

“We’ll see how it holds up,” he said of the knee.“I haven’t had any contact up until this camp, but I’m looking forward to getting it going because contact is a big part of my game.”

Could Tyrell be even better after the injury?

“Actually, some people have told me that they think I’ve gotten faster,” he laughed.“That was a worry of mine, that I wouldn’t be as fast, but I think I’ve got my speed back.”

With his World Junior gold in a frame, along with his jersey, Tyrell is looking forward to the future.

“That was very disappointing,” he said of missing the junior tournament he grew up watching. “It was something I worked hard my whole life for and something I wanted to accomplish. It was unfortunate, but I’ve just got to look forward and Tampa Bay is my next goal. I’m moving on to that.”

With the Lightning in a rebuilding phase, he knows the opportunity is there.

“I can definitely see myself, if I play well in camp, that I can fit in Tampa,” he said.

A checking role suits him just fine to begin with, but he knows he is capable of more.

“I can definitely see myself starting off in a checking role,” he said.“I think I play that role well and I think the team sees me in that role to start off. I know they know I can score, too. I know that, too. I know I’m a two-way player. Long term I see myself in a top two line role.”

Tyrell didn’t look out of place during an 11-game stint with Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals, at the end of the 2007-08 season, scoring one goal and five assists. He won’t be disappointed if he starts off riding a bus.

“Lots of people say its even better to start off playing in the minors, just to get a taste,” he said.