Cole Caufield was standing at the end of the players’ bench that opened into the hallway leading to the locker room, watching the Canadiens’ morning skate with Kirby Dach. The two injured players bowed their heads and smiled as their teammates participated in the drills.
At one point, Caufield noticed a boy sitting next to him in the stands. She offered to take a photo with him, then went back to teasing the touch.
Two days ago, it was Brendan Gallagher who watched the Canadians’ morning skate with Caufield.
“Coley has nothing else to do with his life, I assure you,” Jake Allen quipped. “But honestly, I think she loves the game. When you are 35 years old, there is family and other things, there are other things outside of hockey. But at the same time, Cole loves the game, and so does Dacher. They are both 22-year-old guys with no responsibilities in the world, but they love being in the ring.
Dutch still doesn’t know when he’ll be back. He skated for the first time on Saturday morning. We already knew that Coffield’s season was over after right shoulder surgery on February 1.
They both have to find ways to smile these days.
Allen believes it’s easier for a player whose season is over to keep his spirits up and stay on the team.
“I think because what can you do? You’re done, so you can’t stress him out,” she said. “The guys who are fighting to come back are a little more marked. Cole’s rehab training program hasn’t started yet. Other guys are training and getting their bodies back.
Gallagher is a perfect example of that. He has played in just three games since Nov. 29, and after Thursday’s shootout loss to the New York Rangers, the Canadiens said it would be three to four weeks before he returns.
“Kali has had a tough few years with her injuries,” Allen said. “Every time you get to a point where you’re going, I think she gets old. It’s frustrating. She wants to be in the lineup so bad.”
At least this year, Gallagher has mental health support that shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s amazing how many injured players can be found around the Canadians; It’s not unique to them, but this year’s group does it in a particularly open and integrated way.
Of course, having multiple players in one place lends itself to this type of behavior.
«It is a team far from the team. We have, what, ten boys? asked Joel Edmondson.
That’s how it is. The injury count rose to 13 with Christian Dvorak and Jordan Harris ruled out against the Rangers, while Carey Price and Paul Byrne are also receiving treatment at the team’s facility.
“In the last two years, I don’t think I’ve been on a team with that many injuries,” Edmondson said.
So how exactly do they do it?
Injured players are typically treated early in the morning and skaters put on their skates early in the morning, as prime time resources are prioritized for healthy players. Injured players often spend the whole morning in Brossard, and the fact that there are so many people and the atmosphere is so lively creates a domino effect. They tend to stay longer in training facilities and may even do a little more than expected in the gym.
When Canadians travel, they go in groups of three or four and receive treatment from the next group 45 minutes to an hour apart so that everyone gets the care they need.
“When you have a bunch of injured guys with you, when the team is on the road, you try to hang out together and try to keep morale up,” Edmondson explained. “The happier you are, the more you want to be in the ring and try, prepare and do the exercises together. So they spend a lot of time, I’ve been a part of that group a lot this year, so you have to make the most of it. Being sad and not getting along. Being doesn’t heal you fast either, so you want to enjoy it.
But the idea is not just to make it fun. Kaiden Kuhle, who has been out for two months with a left knee injury, is also a professional issue.
“Injuries happen, that’s part of the game, and you shouldn’t feel sorry for yourself or get depressed when they happen,” Kuhle said. “It’s something that happens and it’s important to be with the team and be around the guys and have a good attitude about it.”
Injured players participate in video conferences as often as possible, depending on their treatment or training schedule. That way, they can keep up with the various changes made by the coaching staff and not be out of step with others when they return to the lineup.
The way coaches handle game nights varies from team to team. Some prefer not to have injured players wandering around players preparing to play so as not to interrupt their concentration. But things work differently with Canadians, who don’t distinguish between playable and non-playable.
“It’s fun for me to see guys hit the gym right before the pregame warmup,” David Savard noted. “When you see them multiple times a day, you feel like they’re still playing.”
In the past, you would occasionally see an injured player sit to the left of the other team’s professional scouts and watch the game from the press box. But this year it’s like having an office party. Sometimes five, six, even seven players, with their cell phones and hockey suits and clothes, walk into the game together. On Tuesday, for example, Dvorak and Harris took his place, along with Juraj Slafkowski, Jake Evans and others.
“It’s good to talk to the guys, you’re watching a play and you’re not just talking about yourself, you have two guys sitting with you,” Edmondson said. “You get the perspective of a striker or a goalkeeper, or someone you’re sitting next to. You’re not just sitting around watching, you’re trying to learn from the game.”
This time around, for example, there are certainly lessons to be learned from this replacement team that gives it their all every night and is able to maintain a surprising level of competitiveness.
As for Byrne, who has no hope of playing hockey this season, he’s rarely seen in the press box, but that doesn’t stop him from faithfully going to the Bell Center for every game.
“I’m here to support the guys,” he said.
This desire to be part of a team helps above all the mental health of injured players, who avoid isolation. But Kuhle says their support for the team is a two-way street.
“It’s good to be there and joke with them and laugh with them,” he said. “They are all important parts of our team and we have to hurt some important pieces right now, so it definitely helps to keep the spirits up and want to play a little more for them. Because they would give anything to stay with us.”
This dynamic is a great way to take advantage of a bad situation. Injuries wreaked havoc on the Canadiens’ season, but the players found ways to stay united and committed.
That is also part of the team culture.
(Photo by Cole Caufield, Kirby Dach and Nick Suzuki: Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)