WINNIPEG - After missing his team’s first game in Winnipeg this season, Travis Zajac was very much looking forward to the second one.
In fact, four days ago the New Jersey Devils centre thought he would be suiting up in his hometown on Saturday afternoon. Instead, he is back on the injured list after his doctor advised him to take two weeks off because of soreness in his surgically repaired Achilles tendon.
Zajac was not at MTS Centre on Friday when the Devils held an afternoon practice.
“Miserable,” is how Zajac’s good friend, Devils forward Zach Parise, assessed the situation on Friday. “Just from me having gone through it last year (with a knee injury), I know how hard it is. And then for him to come back and you think you’re healthy, you think you’re ready, and then all of a sudden you’re out for another however long, it’s frustrating. And just from talking to him, you can tell how disappointed and frustrated he is.”
Zajac, who had appeared in 401 consecutive NHL games for the Devils, tore his Achilles tendon on Aug. 17 while doing off-season training in Winnipeg. He returned to the lineup in mid-December and appeared in eight games, but he was put back on the shelf on Jan. 4 after experiencing pain in his ankle.
He had hoped to return this week, even accompanying the Devils to Calgary on Monday, but he suffered more pain during the morning skate in Cowtown on Tuesday and was sent to Winnipeg to visit his doctor.
“I feel bad for him, because I know after he missed the first one (in Winnipeg) he was so excited to play the second one and get the chance,” Parise said. “Actually, before the Calgary game he had fully intended on playing in Edmonton and here. So I feel bad for him. I know how bad he wanted to play in front of his family and friends here. I guess he’s gotta wait until next year.”
If there’s good news for Zajac, it’s that realignment has been delayed for a season, meaning the Devils should come to Winnipeg twice again next season.
Devils head coach Peter DeBoer also feels bad for Zajac not being able to play in his hometown, but the long-term success of the team is important.
“He just has to get better, and we need him in March and April a lot more than we need him right now, and that’s the focus,” DeBoer said.
Goaltender Martin Brodeur said Zajac was one of several veterans who were looking forward to bouncing back this year after the Devils missed the playoffs last season.
“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Brodeur said. “You get hurt in the off-season trying to prepare the best you can for a big year. All of us, we went into this off-season saying, ‘We can’t let this happen again.’ And he’s a key. He’s our top guy centreman-wise.
“He worked really hard, he came back, and you could tell he was struggling a little bit. I don’t know if it was too early or he felt good and something happened. So now he’s had a little setback. I’ve been through it before with my elbow when I had surgery.”