Doesn't miss a beat

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:29 AM ET

Out for a year?

You'd never know it by the way Bryan Berard played last night for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The veteran defenceman made his season debut, playing nearly 22 minutes and finishing with an even plus-minus rating.

"He probably played a lot more minutes tonight than we wanted him to," said Blue Jackets head coach Ken Hitchcock.

"He's practised a lot, but the game is a lot different."

OUT 82 GAMES

Berard missed the final 31 games of last season and first 51 of this one following a pair of operations for two separate herniated disks in his back.

Last season Berard set a club record for defencemen with 12 goals in 44 games.

"I felt pretty good," Berard said. "Physically, I felt really good. I guess mentally the timing was a little off.

"I guess I rushed some decisions and took a little too long on some. Hopefully that will come back after a few games. But physically I felt really good which, for me, was a bright spot."

It didn't take long for the Blue Jackets to thrust Berard back into action.

He played 6:30 in the first period and quarterbacked the power play.

"We definitely have the guns to have a good power play," Berard said. "The guys did well, we scored on one of our chances and I just tried to do what I can."

It's not the first time Berard has been out for an extended period of time.

The 1997 NHL rookie of the year was a member of the New York Islanders when he suffered a career-threatening eye injury in 2000. Berard was inadvertently hit in the eye by Marian Hossa of the Ottawa Senators while playing with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Berard, 29, missed the rest of the season and the following one. He still has reduced vision in his eye.

AMAZING RETURN

However he made an amazing return with the New York Rangers in 2002. He signed with the Jackets last season.

"Shape-wise I feel really good," Berard said. "But there's nothing like playing games to get the timing back. Especially missing a year, I think it's just a matter of getting a few games here and getting in game shape and getting my timing back."

Having been out for so long, Berard was anxious to get back in the lineup. He was activated yesterday afternoon.

"Coming into it, I was definitely excited and I was a little nervous," Berard said. "It was the first time I've been nervous in a long time. I felt pretty good.

"I would have liked to play a little bit better, but hopefully that will come around when I get a few games in."


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