SUN Hockey Pool

Bittersweet year for Plante

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

It's a terrible way to finish the year, flaming out to a 24-point underdog in the league championship, but as stubborn a stain as the Calgary Hitmen's collapse will leave on Alex Plante's summer, he can at least take comfort in knowing the season wasn't a complete disaster.

And given the defenceman's recent history, that's a giant step in the right direction.

"It's very upsetting to end it this way because we had such a successful regular season," said the Edmonton Oilers draft pick (15th overall in 2007), before the vanquished Hitmen cleaned out their stalls at the Saddledome yesterday. "Not only that, but we had such a close group of guys who would do anything for each other. There were no cliques. It was a great group from the coaching staff to the trainers. It was such a fun year and to have it come to an end like that is disappointing."

The six-game loss to Kelowna in the Western Hockey League final stings, but the good news for Calgary is that the Hitmen program is on the rise again, while the good news for Edmonton is that Plante is, too, having rebounded spectacularly from a miserable, injury-plagued 2007-08 campaign that could have derailed him for good.

"It was definitely a bit of a relief," said the six-foot-four, 220-pounder, who spent half of last season on the injured list and the other half in a fruitless game of catch-up.

"I never lost faith in the fact I thought I could still play, but falling so far behind last year with the injuries and not playing much was a pretty big dagger in the development side of things."

He was hoping to move forward as a leader and a player, but a hat-trick of injuries shut him down before he even got started. A glute injury got him right out of the blocks and took forever to heal. Then he had to deal with a pinched nerve in his back. And when he finally came back a second time, he got hit from behind and was back in the press box with a concussion.

He missed about three months and finished the year with two points and 28 PIMs in 36 games. By the time playoffs rolled around he was reduced to an afterthought on the Calgary blueline.

"It was brutal," said Plante. "It was one of those nightmare seasons. Once I was down I kind of stayed down. It seemed like I couldn't pull myself out of that rut. I was fighting the quicksand. Every time I tried to get back in I kept getting hurt.

"And it's tough to jump back in halfway through the year because everybody has their timing and has been improving through the year whereas I was still in the beginning of the year phase. It was just tough to try to crack it."

It made for a long summer, but he wasn't going to let the past ruin his future. So he came back harder than ever, delivering 45 points and 157 PIMs this season and another 15 points in 18 playoff games.

From blue chip prospect to busted pick to blue chip prospect again.

"I couldn't change what happened but I could change what I was going to do about it," said Plante, who was plus 45 in the regular season and playoffs. "This year was a clean slate. I started fresh and that helped me. The coaches gave me such an unbelievable opportunity this year. I couldn't thank them enough.

"It was great to be back playing hockey again and contributing. And the long playoff run was a big help because of all the time I missed. And staying healthy was definitely the big thing."

Even though it ended badly with the upset loss to Kelowna, he can at least feel good about himself this off-season.

"From such a cold season to a hot one," he said. "It'll be a lot easier going into the summer feeling good about myself in the sense that I was playing and contributing."


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