CALGARY - Of all the Calgary Flames prospects out on the ice early Monday evening, the biggest smile might have belonged to Mitch Wahl.
There were plenty of newcomers lacing up at Don Hartman Northeast Sportsplex with their future teammates for the first time looking a little doe-eyed and others joking around with already familiar faces at the team’s summer development camp.
Wahl, though, is finally just back to doing what he loves after a long layoff.
“I’m 100% healthy,” said the 21-year-old centre who missed most of last season — his first as a professional — with a concussion suffered in late-November when Manitoba Moose forward Aaron Volpatti caught him with his head down.
“I’m feeling really good.
I feel I’m in good shape. I feel confident. I feel healthy. My head feels great.”
His hands have never been in question. The Seal Beach, Calif., kid has great playmaking ability and hopes to finally prove it at the AHL level this season to make up for the lost time.
“Concussions are a weird thing. I’ve never had one before, and I missed 67 games with it,” Wahl said.
“It’s something you don’t play around with.”
It’s also something completely unpredictable when it comes to the healing process.
Like many suffering a head injury, Wahl would feel close to normal and then symptoms would rush back.
“There’s days where you feel great. You’ll feel good for two, three days in a row. You’re feeling confident you’re getting ready to get back on the ice. Then you’ll run into a day you have a headache,” said the former Spokane Chiefs centre.
“It was depressing, for sure. With our team being gone often on the road, I’m stuck in Abbotsford, a place where
I don’t really know anyone and can’t do anything.”
Carter Bancks, who recently turned his AHL deal into an NHL contract with the Flames, joined him on the sidelines with a concussion, and the pair offered each other company and support.
“He kept me sane,” said Wahl with a laugh.
“Sometimes I wouldn’t even go to our (home) games. They didn’t want me in bright lights watching the back-and-forth game.
“Depending on when it was, really, I slowly, slowly would get better and then I’d get worse. It was a long three, four months there for me.”
Finally, the fog lifted.
“Towards the end of the year, I was finally getting to that point. I couldn’t get there during the season, and it was frustrating. I finally got through it. I was happy with that,” Wahl said. “You can just feel the change. I felt myself gradually getting better, but it was a long process. It was really hard for me to heal up.”
Wahl has been in Calgary for a month now training hard with the Flames’ strength and conditioning coach Rich Hesketh. He looks like he’s in great shape.
With any luck, his hockey career as a pro will take shape as a result.
“This is a big summer for me,” Wahl added. “I’m going to be as prepared as I can be.”