CAMROSE -- Between the deep breaths and through the fountain of sweat, you can make out the smile.
One that will probably be permanently etched on Tyler Spurgeon's face this season - just happy to be playing hockey again.
"I feel great out there," Spurgeon said prior to the Edmonton Oilers rookies playing host to the Vancouver Canucks rookies at the Encana Arena in Camrose last night.
"When you've been away for so long, you have to work on your timing and stuff, but it came back pretty quick. I feel good out there. I want to have a good camp and make it tough for those guys to decide where to put me.
"It's a big year for me to prove a lot after missing so much time last year. You want to put up good numbers and play well for the club."
Last season came to a premature end for Spurgeon after suffering a concussion 12 games in with the Springfield Falcons. He spent the rest of the year in Edmonton recovering.
"Those were trying times, especially when you think you are getting better, then you get a headache or don't feel well and are back to square one," he said. "It's a tough process to go through and not having a timeline of when you're going to get better is probably one of the hardest things to do."
An eighth-round pick (242nd overall) of the Edmonton Oilers in 2004, the local product was hoping to have a productive season with the Falcons on his way up the ladder.
But the longer it took to recover from the hit, the more frustrating it became.
"I was on my knees and went to chip the puck out and a guy hit me from behind," he said. "I went into the boards headfirst and suffered a concussion.
"After that, there were definitely times that I felt I was getting better. But now that I am, I realize back then I was nowhere close. I have to thank the training staff for bringing me along because back then you never really knew what the next day was going to bring for you."
Given the all-clear in early June, Spurgeon has a new-found appreciation for the game. He'll never take it for granted.
"You always want to appreciate it when you're playing, but when you're away from it for that long and you have to sit and watch guys battle through the tough times and go through the good times, you don't quite feel as part of it as you should and you miss out a lot," he said. "I'm excited to get back out there and be with the boys. I had a good couple of months to train, which was important. It might have been tough to get cleared in August and then try to get ready for camp."
A former junior standout and Memorial Cup winner with the Kelowna Rockets, Spurgeon, 22, split his first professional season between the American Hockey League and the ECHL. He's expected to play with the Falcons this season.
"We're looking for big things from Tyler this year," said Falcons head coach Jeff Truit. "It was a tough year for him last season and you can see how glad he is to be out there on the ice.
"We're expecting him to provide a lot of offence and leadership for us this year."
Having missed nearly seven months of the previous season, Spurgeon worked hard this off-season to prepare for training camp.
Like a caged dog, he couldn't wait to get back on the ice once given the go-ahead.
"I was able to get a good two months in with skating and training and building up for camp after that," he said. "I think I worked really hard this summer to try and catch up where I finished before the six months of not playing. I think I'm getting back to even a better place than when I was where I left last year. Hopefully it doesn't hurt your development and it's a matter of getting into those games and making those reads."