Matthew Lombardi felt like he had the starring role in the movie Groundhog Day. Only, his was the version found in the horror section.
Lombardi spent 10 months on the sidelines while recovering from a concussion suffered during the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs. Day by frustrating day, the 23-year-old was left wondering if he would ever get back to full strength.
"You're used to just being yourself," Lombardi said yesterday from Montreal, where he is skating in preparation for training camp next month.
"Part of being an athlete is you're always active, whether it's playing hockey or working out or playing golf with your buddies.
"I couldn't do any of that."
Lombardi kept hoping against hope he'd wake up one day and all of the symptoms would disappear.
"All you're working towards is the next morning," he said. "I would say 'OK, I'm not doing this so hopefully I'll feel better tomorrow.' And then tomorrow comes and you don't feel better. It was a pain in the (behind)."
In mid-March, Lombardi finally received medical clearance to get back on the ice and he headed to AHL Lowell to join the Lock Monsters for the final few games of the regular season.
He never played in back-to-back games but managed to suit up for nine games before the post-season, where he played in all 11 contests.
"I hadn't seen much improvement for eight, nine, 10 months," he said of his return. "It was tough, mentally, wondering when it was going to go away. So you get some bad thoughts in your head.
"So I was just easing myself in. With the schedule, there was a lot of three-on-three. It was like that every weekend.
"But getting out there in March was the biggest relief."
Lombardi, who had 16 goals and 29 points with the Flames in 2003-04, didn't have to wait long to get proof he was fully recovered.
"My second game back, I got hit hard right in the head," he said. "It was almost a good thing because I got nailed pretty good and nothing happened."
With that, Lombardi left his medical issues behind him and looked forward to a more productive summer.
Anything would be better than 2003-04.
"For sure," he said, "it's something you have no control over.
"All you can do is rest and hope for the best. I had never been through anything like that before.
"You go home for the summer and you think it'll be a couple weeks long. The next thing you know, it's February and you haven't put the skates on for a real game yet."
Lombardi can't wait to get to Calgary and hit the ice with his teammates, including a few guys he hasn't met yet.
He gave Darryl Sutter's off-season moves, bringing in the likes of wingers Tony Amonte and Darren McCarty as well as blueliner Roman Hamrlik, two thumbs up.
"What can you say about those players? They're all unbelievable players.
"Everyone always comes up and says 'man, you guys are looking awesome.' But we have to go out and do it on the ice."