By Danielle Catalano
Binghamton Senators right wing Jim McKenzie is looking to gain more than an hour this fall when we turn back to the clocks to standard time. A torn right labrum incurred last April has kept the second-year forwardout of the 2008-09 lineup, and instead, has placed him on the injured reserved list since training camp while he rehabilitates. The winger’s status, though, will be changing quickly as his progress has him nearing a complete recovery within the next two weeks.
McKenzie split last season between Binghamton and Ottawa’s East Coast Hockey League affiliate, the Elmira Jackals. He was with the Jackals when the team made it to playoffs, which is where he would subsequently tear his right labrum during the sixth and final playoff game against the Reading Royals.
“It was a wild game,” McKenzie says. “Not only was it our last game in Elmira, but our last game of the season, so guys were moving everywhere. The game went into double overtime, but I injured myself before that. I went to block a pass with my right arm fully extended, got hit, fell forward, and slid across the ice. My shoulder dislocated then for the first time that night—that’s how crazy a night it was; I didn’t dislocate my shoulder once, but twice…. So, I left the ice, they popped my shoulder back into the socket, I went back out on the ice, got hit again, and popped out my shoulder again. ...[B]y the end of the night, my shoulder was so unbelievably sore, I could barely lift it.”
Following the loss, McKenzie headed to his alma mater, Michigan State University, to have his shoulder assessed by the Spartan’s hockey athletic trainer, Dave Carrier. An MRI revealed a tear, and Carrier recommended surgery. McKenzie returned home to St. Paul, Minn., and consulted with orthopedic surgeon Dr. Daniel Buss, who had performed surgery on McKenzie’s shoulder a year earlier when the forward suffered a different injury during his junior year at Michigan State.
The torn labrum was soon repaired, and the shoulder was placed in a sling for the next 30 days. “You know how you go to the doctor’s office when you’re sick and they tell you to go home and rest?” asks McKenzie. “Well, I was under strict orders of no physical activity, and that’s exactly what I did: absolutely nothing. …I didn’t want to risk making my shoulder worse. I just plopped down and did nothing.”
Two months passed before McKenzie traveled back to Michigan State to take classes toward finishing a degree in Human Resource Management and to begin his rehabilitation. For a month, Carrier had McKenzie concentrate on range-of-motion exercises and light strength training. “We’d do stretching with bands, but not overhead stuff, and some lifting, but nothing heavy, less than five pounds.”
There was one point during his rehabilitation, though, where McKenzie pressured himself to rush his progress. A professional skate camp was held at Michigan State in July, and McKenzie participated in a few sessions. “I pushed myself a little bit too much, because I was doing so little physically at that time,” he says. “My shoulder tightened up and started to throb, and I that’s when I said to myself, ‘Nope, you’re going to relax and do it at your own pace.’”
When McKenzie arrived at Binghamton in September,athletic therapist Domenic Nicoletta took over the forward’s rehabilitation program, following Carrier’s guidelines of gradually increasing McKenzie’s weight-training regimen and incorporating sports massage treatments.
Meanwhile, assistant coach Mike Busniuk started McKenzie on a speed-training program to build up the right wing’s leg and cardio endurance and increase his lungpower. Following his teammates’ practice for a half-hour each day over a course of four weeks, McKenzie skated through a variety of drills, including stop-start, long skating, and circles.
“Jim’s a natural skater,” Busniuk says. “After three maybe four days, his legs were back…When we started on Jim, we wanted to make sure he could maintain a high, but safe level of endurance so he wouldn’t fall behind his teammates when he returned to practice once his shoulder was healed. We want Jim 100-percent ready to play, when the doctor gives him clearance.”
“Oh my god, the skating drills,” McKenzie grimaces, describing the workouts. “The first few weeks were really boring, because that’s all we did and it was just me skating. But, it helped a lot with my breathing…. I was a little out of shape—doing nothing over the summer will do that. [T]he skating drills on the fresh ice have definitely helped not only for my legs but keeping up my cardio.”
Luckily for McKenzie, he won’t have to worry about being bored any time soon. On Oct. 21, the right wing returned to St. Paul for an evaluation, where an MRI showed his labrum was healing faster than anticipated and his shoulder had stabilized. He received the go-ahead to participate in no-contact practices with his teammates, and throughout the last week of October worked on stick handling, feeling for the puck, and skating on “choppy” ice. In addition, Nicoletta—whom McKenzie credits for his progress along with Carrier—has altered McKenzie’s gym workouts to replicate more game-like situations.
“We’re doing more pushing exercises off the wall and off the floor, so now the focus is on the rehab preparing me to get over the fear of re-injuring my shoulder; taking hits and getting more comfortable playing along the boards and in the corners,” McKenzie says.
Amazingly, during this entire time, McKenzie’s spirits hardly waned. “He has tough motivation,” Busniuk says. “He saw the carrot in his mind, and now that he’ll be on the ice, the rest will take care of itself.”
“When I first got here,” McKenzie says, “I sometimes felt tucked away from everyone: skating by myself, lifting, rehabbing, being part of the team, but not really. But, I missed training camp and the rookie tournament, so those were big motivators for me to get healthy and prove myself. And, the loss at Elmira last season was unsatisfying, leaving me with this killer feeling to get back out there. So, it hasn’t been too difficult.”