Two years too long for Sully

IAN BUSBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

In sitting out nearly two full calendar years, Steve Sullivan had many low points on his road to recovery.

There were days the Nashville Predators forward couldn't roll out of bed due to his tightened back.

Although the extra time away from the team allowed him to spend more time with his four kids, Sullivan couldn't do much more than watch them play.

But one of the hardest things was seeing his team move on without him, especially how they made the playoffs the past two seasons only to get knocked out in the first round each time.

"You want to help your team any way you can and tough times can make it bad," said Sullivan, who suited up last night against the Calgary Flames in Game 7 of his comeback.

"Just knowing that last year we were making a run for it and everyone was saying our team was missing a top-six forward.

"If we could just find a top-six forward ... that's me. That was tough. There was nothing I could do. The body was just wasn't reacting."

Sullivan was first injured Feb. 22, 2007, against the Montreal Canadiens when his back seized up on a routine shift.

He would eventually require two surgeries and several different rehab plans to get to the point where he could be effective again.

In coming back, and scoring two assists in six games prior to last night's outing, Sullivan joins a group of two other players to miss more than 600 days and return to the same team. The others are Jim Peplinski and Mario Lemieux.

Still, the 34-year-old considers himself day-to-day, which he may be until the end of his career, but so far, so good.

"I've been skating for a while, but we had to make sure it was ready," Sullivan said. "My worst fear was coming back for one shift and it going out on me. Then that would be the end of the story. I didn't want that to happen."

Predators head coach Barry Trotz is happy to have Sullivan back. After losing such players as Scott Hartnell, Paul Kariya, Alexander Radulov, Kimmo Timonen and Marek Zidlicky, getting a skilled playmaker has made the Predators much more dangerous.

"Everybody's cheering for Sully because everyone realizes how tough it is to do it," said Trotz. "We've deleted so many top-end players the past few years, getting a guy like Sully back in the lineup was a real boost for our morale.

"I've known Steve was going through a real tough time. There are a lot of peaks and valleys in coming back from a back injury.

"It's almost like a toothache. It just never goes away, although you don't have that excruciating pain. You make some gains and then take some steps back."

To Sullivan, timing is the toughest thing to get back.

"The legs and speed have come back quicker than I thought it would," Sullivan said. "I thought it would be the opposite. I thought I would still see the game well.

"It shows how quick of a game it is. You don't have time to make decisions, so the vision has taken a little longer."

In all that time away, Sullivan never thought of giving up and retiring with 723 career games, 228 goals and 351 assists.

"Not even close," Sullivan said emphatically. "I was still under contract. I owed it to everyone to find a solution."


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