Photo Courtesy: JustSports Photography
BINGHAMTON, N.Y. - The 2016-17 season took an unexpected turn before it even started for Ottawa Senators’ forward Curtis Lazar when he was diagnosed with mononucleosis over the summer.
“I pushed myself to limits I had never been to before this summer when I started skating and got my workouts to the next step,” said Lazar. “The fatigue started to set in [soon after]. I did not get as much rest as I wanted, and I started fighting a cold. Next thing I know I am in the hospital getting tested and they let me know I had mono.”
Mononucleosis, or mono, commonly causes fatigue and can leave a person feeling tired for weeks to months at a time. People with mono also have issues with enlarged spleens and are advised to stay away from physical activity to avoid it bursting.
Lazar had to go on two weeks of bed rest to begin getting past his illness and eased himself back into time on the ice before being cleared for contact and Senators' training camp had already started. As a result, a decision was made between the Ottawa front office and coaching staff to send the forward to its American Hockey League affiliate, the Binghamton Senators, in order to get back to the National Hockey League’s speed.
“They just wanted me to be able to play games and felt that it was not the appropriate move to throw me right back into the NHL which I totally understood,” said Lazar. “Being down [in Binghamton] allows me to play more minutes, get my confidence up and handle the puck a little bit more.”
Lazar was still eligible to be sent to the B-Sens while avoiding the waivers, so the team chose to forgo a traditional NHL Conditioning Assignment and assigned the 21-year-old to the AHL for the first time.
GETTING TO START IN THE NHL
After being drafted in the first round of the 2013 NHL Entry Level Draft by the Ottawa Senators, Lazar made the roster out of his first Training Camp to join to team in the 2014-15 season.
“To be able to step in the NHL at 19 was pretty cool,” said Lazar. “You go from watching those guys on TV to all of a sudden they are my teammates, opponents and friends too. It took about a year to kind of get the star struck out of my head, but from there it is just another game that I enjoy.”
Lazar began his career at the age of three when his parents put him on skates and then into figure skating at the age of four. Once he turned five, Lazar started playing organized hockey and has taken off from there. With help from teammates and coaches along the way, Lazar has continued to learn in the NHL by playing in 143 games recording 12 goals and 23 assists and embraces the meaning of being on a team.
“[The sport] just became my life,” said Lazar. “I guess it’s just that team bond and lessons that can be learned every step of the way. You realize [teammates] are just people who love playing the game, and we will always have each other’s backs. That is what makes us successful.”
Lazar’s team-oriented mentality is something that has been noticed during his time in Binghamton. B-Sens Head Coach Kurt Kleinendorst recently returned to the organization after his last stint with the team in the 2011-12 season. While he has only been able to see Lazar from a distance, Kleinendorst made note of how easy it was for him to transition to the AHL.
“In our sport and world it really does not take that long to get know one another,” said Kleinendorst. “From what I see here, he just fits in and that is what I would have expected.”
Kleinendorst also expects other things from Lazar like assuming the responsibilities of any other player in the locker room despite his background.
BEING A PART OF THE B-SENS
For the B-Sens coaching staff, Lazar is just another young player that is a part of the team they need to develop. Kleinendorst sees it as a positive opportunity for the Salmon Arm, B.C., native.
“With [Curtis] everything is on the table, nothing is off limits. He’s a part of our room, and he has to take some ownership in where he’s at as far as he’s still a young player,” said Kleinendorst. “He can develop and find a way to get better. This is actually a great opportunity for him because here for us he can get 20, 21 minutes on the ice. He gets to play in a lot of situations.”
Lazar has been able to face a lot of scenarios over the past three games with the Binghamton Senators. From 3-on-3 overtime, shootouts, and playing on the special teams, Lazar has participated in all practices and games and recorded one goal.
“He needs to continue to embrace this opportunity because as a young player he has a lot to benefit from being here from just the ice time and things to learn that will help him when he does get back to Ottawa,” said Kleinendorst.
Lazar echoes that sentiment when talking about how he is taking his time down in Binghamton to help his game.
“The team down here has welcomed me with open arms. Regardless of where I am, I am still playing and that is the most important thing,” said Lazar. “I feel good and have a feeling I am going to play my game and [Ottawa staff] is going to be pleasantly surprised with how I am doing.”
Story by: Nicole Del Villano