Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – Buffalo Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons was back in town on Monday and skated with some of his teammates at Harborcenter.
Girgensons suffered a bad injury during a training camp scrimmage last January and had to have season-ending hamstring surgery. Girgensons is an intense competitor and was devastated by the injury.
“It was not an easy thing mentally, but what I took out of the injury is I have more of an appreciation for hockey," Girgensons said following the skate. "I had never missed that long of a period, and I really did miss hockey. So that made me work harder, and my excitement for camp this year is just way higher than it’s been before.”
Girgensons has a certain intensity with how he approaches hockey, and he said not being able to help the team last year killed him.
“Either way, if they’re winning or they’re losing, if I’m not out there, it’s not a good feeling," Girgensons said. "You always want to be out there to help the team, whether it would be winning or losing. You want to be out there, so to have to watch a whole season was difficult not to be out there.”
In August, Girgensons got to play for Latvia, as they qualified for February’s Winter Olympic Games. He was feeling great and had no ill effects from the injury.
“It was great. I was just excited to play hockey," Girgensons said. "It was almost a year-and-a-half since a game, so I was just excited to be back on the ice and to qualify for the Olympics. It’s huge for our country, and it means a lot. So yes, I felt 100% in qualifiers. I think I’ve been 100% the whole summer.”
Since the last time Girgensons was on the ice for a game with the Sabres, gone are Sam Reinhart, Rasmus Ristolainen, Marcus Johansson, Jimmy Vesey, Johan Larsson, Brandon Montour, Jake McCabe, Curtis Lazar, Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton. He also may never play with Jack Eichel again.
“Teammates come and go, but there were definitely some teammates that had been around for a while here with me," Girgensons said of the changes. "Today was my first day, and definitely to go into the locker room, I was kind of looking for those guys, because it didn’t catch up in my mind that they were gone. It’s not easy losing friends, but it’s business.”
Girgensons saw the improvement last season in Casey Mittelstadt, Rasmus Dahlin and others. He said that’s what encourages him going into this season.
“I think the jump last year was huge when 'Donny' took over, especially in the young guys," Girgensons said. "I think just watching the young guys, you can see the excitement, the work ethic. They bring it every day, and that’s what we need here.”
Girgensons is now 27-years-old, and he’s one of the elder statesmen on this team with Kyle Okposo and Colin Miller. He said being one of the leaders won’t change him a bit.
“I’ll do what I’ve always done," Girgensons said. "I feel like I’ve always been somewhat of a leader, but I’m more of a lead by example. I give my all every day and every night. I don’t take days off, so that’s how I go about it. Maybe the young guys can take something from it.”
Girgensons and the veterans report to training camp on Wednesday, Sept. 22.
***Photo: Micheline Michaelina (@MiMiV4682)