ARLINGTON, V.A. — As Washington Capitals winger Tom Wilson came back to the bench after tweaking his knee in Game 1 against the Florida Panthers in May, he went to the tunnel and jumped up and down, testing his leg out following the tweak. What he didn’t realize at that moment was that he actually tore his ACL and a lot of that came from the fact that he was able to move around quite a bit.
“My injury was weird, and when you’re on your feet, even in that first game when I was hurt, I was doing tests that I shouldn’t have been able to do,” Wilson explained. “I was jumping up and down and a bunch of different stuff, and they’re like, ‘You’re fine. You’re fine.'”
However, going out on the ice for some skating, the 28-year-old knew there was something wrong. And though he tried everything he could to come back for at least one game in the series, his season was over.
“Subconsciously when I moved one way on the ice, I couldn’t use other muscles. And the stability in my knee wasn’t there,” Wilson said. “It was a little bit frustrating, but in my head, I did a week or two where I was doing fast feet and over hurdles with my brace on and everything felt good. And then I’d go on the ice and it would just be like, ‘no go…’ it just didn’t happen, so we had to shut it down.”
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In late May, Wilson had to undergo surgery to repair his torn ACL and was given a timeline of 6-8 months to recover. Since then, he has been putting in work off the ice, rehabilitating and doing what he can to return. And after having a check-up this week, the signs are good as he feels he is “ahead of schedule.”
“I think it’s one of those things where you can be ahead of schedule and still need to wait. It’s kind of a weird mental one that way because you’ve got to let the injury heal itself. Just like the science and the research and everything on all this stuff is saying you’ve got to wait and do it once,” Wilson noted. “I feel good, I feel like I’ve kind of been ahead of schedule, per se, since Day 1. But that doesn’t mean much, unfortunately. Obviously, I want to be as good as I can every day, but you’ve still got to wait.”
The injury has not only challenged Wilson physically but mentally as well. He hasn’t necessarily faced a big injury like this before. And coming off an All-Star season that saw him dish a career-high 24 goals, 28 assists and 52 points in 79 games for Washington while skating on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, it’s tough sitting on the sidelines and watching.
Still, he is letting himself heal and taking things “day by day” — although that’s easier said than done.
“I’ve been trying the hardest just to take a break and allow my body and my mind to get a little bit [of rest]… the one silver lining is the rest of your body can heal up,” Wilson said. “You can take some time to get a bit of a mental break. During the summer, I was trying to do that and focus on my knee and focus on my rehab. But obviously, as you get back around the rink and stuff, it gets more difficult when you’re seeing the guys skating and playing and stuff. I’ll just try and be a good teammate, be around and hang with the guys.”
Wilson hasn’t started skating yet and is still progressing off the ice. He doesn’t have an exact timeline of how close he is, though he is confident it could be sooner rather than later.
“It’s one of those things where I could probably skate. Like I probably could, [but] there’s a lot of like, ‘until you’re good.’ Until your legs are the same until your muscles are all the same. I’m going to do enough skating, enough bag-skating, enough on-ice stuff before I get back to what’s most beneficial… right now, the ice isn’t. So I’m doing everyday kind of stuff,” Wilson said. “When I’m out on the ice, that’ll be the day that it’s most beneficial for me to be on the ice. And the team’s great. Everyone’s been on the same page, so we’re just taking it like that. For now, I’m just doing off-ice and rehab stuff.”
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He will be missed in the lineup, as he plays a myriad of roles for the Capitals, including that of a first-line RW, top penalty killer and tough guy. But in the meantime, Wilson is ready to contribute however he can off the ice. However, that doesn’t mean that the 6-4, 220-pound forward isn’t chomping at the bit to come back.
“I’m there for the guys any way I can be. You kind of remove me as an individual and do what’s best for my health and my recovery,” Wilson said, adding, “It’s a competitive world; you want to be out there. you want to be helping your team win, and at the end of the day, it’ll get difficult as I’m getting down to crunch time. Like, ‘hey, let’s get back and play, let’s get back and play’ when it does show that the longer you wait, the better. For me, I’m just trying to take it day by day and not talk about a timeline or anything because we are still far enough away…I’m excited to be around the guys.
“There’s really nothing like being back at training camp and getting that feeling again. And I’m going to push myself as hard as I can to be ready when I’m needed.”