ARLINGTON, V.A. – Looking back at the last couple of seasons, Washington Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny is happy those years are in the rearview.
The 31-year-old blueliner has suffered numerous injuries that have sidelined him for a significant time over the last few campaigns, but now, he says he’s ready to play.
“Feel great. Feel good. You know, finally, I can be here from the start of training camp,” Kempny said. “To be able to come be with the guys and it just means a lot to me. I’ve been through a lot the last couple years so I’m glad to be here right now.”
His injury luck took a turn for the worse in March 2019, when he suffered a torn hamstring that held him out the remainder of the 2018-19 campaign. He returned for 58 games in 2019-20 before the COVID-19 pause, recording 18 points, and then, while training for the shortened 2020-21 season, Kempny tore his Achilles tendon in training. The last time he played was in the playoff bubble vs. New York.
Kempny had been ready to return near the end of the season and elected to condition down in Hershey to prepare for an NHL return. That’s when one media timeout and sip of Gatorade took a turn for the worse.
“I was drinking my drink, and the shovel guy stepped on the towel, fell down and I fell right to my knees. My knee went kind of inside,” Kempny recalled.
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The defenseman collided with an ice shoveler and suffered a second-grade MCL sprain that led him to “give up” on the season and focus on coming back full strength for 2021-22.
“In that moment I just didn’t know if I should laugh or cry,” Kempny recalled. “I believe that everything bad is behind me and I’m just trying to focus what’s now and enjoying every day here.”
All three injuries happened in his left leg, which he mentioned felt out of balance. In the offseason, the Czech defenseman returned home and made the tough decision to change trainers. The one he’s elected to work with has helped numerous players rehabilitating from injury come back stronger.
“I just felt that I need some change in my stuff back home and that’s what I did,” Kempny said. “It was tough decision to make, but I’m glad I made it… We worked twice a day from the start. Just a lot of simple exercises to get my left leg back in balance and to be without any pain. We worked really hard. We didn’t do any jumping, any running, you know we made some changes in my training and just we just really focused on to come back here, to be healthy pain-free and ready to go.”
Now back in D.C., Kempny has been working hard on the ice toward a comeback. During drills, he’s been impressive, and he’s set to return to game action vs. the Boston Bruins Sunday.
“Looks like he’s skating well, looks like he’s in really good shape, seems to be in good spirits,” general manager Brian MacLellan noted. “For him, it’s going to be, ‘How does he play in the games?'”
In regards to where he slots in this season, there are a number of roles he can play. With Brenden Dillon and Zdeno Chara departing this offseason, there are two spots on the left side to fill, and one of them is a top-4 role.
“I mean, I’m very excited,” Kempny noted. “I said that to our coaches you know I’m missing the whole process of everything, the NHL process, to be with the guys in the locker room, to having fun on the ice. I’m just enjoying every day here.”
However, there’s a lot of competition, especially with Trevor van Riemsdyk getting more comfortable playing on his left side. For Kempny, though, he’s staying focused on making an NHL return — whatever that return may entail.
“I don’t know, to be honest. I’m just focusing on my game, on myself,” Kempny said. “I’m here 100 percent, I’m healthy, I feel good on the ice and I came ready to play the games… only thing what I can say that I did everything I could this summer to be in this spot. I’m just gonna give everything I got every day here and go from there.”