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No rest, no problems for Sabourin

by Scott Stuccio || AHL On The Beat Archive

Dany Sabourin actually has played three games in less than three nights several times in the American Hockey League.

But none compared to the ones that bookended two of the toughest battles of his career.

On the night of Jan. 21, 2011, Sabourin and the Bears took on the Albany Devils and ended up pummeling the visitors by an 8-3 score. Former Hershey agitator Louis Robitaille was ejected from the game just 4:22 into the first period, after receiving a game misconduct for charging Sabourin in his crease. Sabourin was injured on the play, but managed to stay in and finish with a 34-save victory.

The injury nagged long afterward but no one would know, with Sabourin posting wins in both the Saturday and Sunday games against the Rochester Americans and Adirondack Phantoms. Once Monday came, things looked grim.

“I was really surprised with the results,” Sabourin recalled. “They looked at my knee and they knew it was the ACL, but they didn’t know if it was a tear. So I had the MRI on Monday and I came in on Tuesday but got the bad news. But I decided to play that next game on Wednesday because I was on a winning streak. I ended up with four in a row and then decided to have the surgery just to be ready for next season.”

Knee injuries are painful for a player at any position in hockey, but most especially for goaltenders, with the extraordinary amounts of pressure they put on them.

“It was getting harder and harder to play with my knee swelling up, after each game and each practice,” he continued. “It was starting to get very sore too, so I decided to have the surgery.”

The Bears rode the rest of the regular season using five other goaltenders: Jared DeMichiel, Todd Ford, Braden Holtby, Shane Owen and Nolan Schaefer. Dismissed in the East Division semifinals by the Charlotte Checkers, the Bears then went to work in the offseason expecting Sabourin’s absence and recovery time to be lengthy.

Written off by some as incapable of even being ready for training camp, Sabourin proved otherwise.

“It was supposed to be six months of recovery so I was right on the borderline of being ready or not,” Sabourin related. “I did my best to be ready, and it was my goal and my focus. It was a long process and there are times that you really have to be careful because it’s so fragile.

“When you put the pads on after so long, you’re so happy, but first you have to start to skate without going down,” he continued. “Then you start going down slowly, because it’s still sore, and slowly take shots. When I was finally ready I was so happy and I was able to go to training camp.”

Sabourin may not have been his best at camp, but he gradually improved for the start of this 2011-12 season. He was also placed into a difficult role, as both he and Holtby rotated starts just about the entire time from the beginning of the campaign through the All-Star break.

But with the recall of Holtby to Washington earlier in the month, Sabourin has become the number one in goal once again –- a spot which he held several times before -– and is poised to help the Bears claw through the home stretch of the season. He came out of March with a record of 8-1-1, including a seven-game winning streak that started on Mar. 16 in a string of another three games in three nights “at the office.”

Holtby was back in Hershey that weekend, and backed up the man who had a strong month going. But another recall of Holtby led to Sabourin taking over once again -– this time with very little notice and rest.

“That game in Albany on that Sunday was tough,” he said. “But just like all the guys, you push yourself, and the toughest part is to try to prepare yourself. You know you’re tired. Even the warm-up is tough. After the first period you can see the end and you think, ‘Oh, there are only two periods left.’ Then you get to the third and you know it’s almost done, and you push yourself all the way.”

Hershey head coach Mark French never stopped singing the praises of how Sabourin took on the increased role.

“I’ve said this many times before, and I mean it more each time,” French said, “that when good people have success, you are very happy for them. And that is certainly the case with Dany.”

With just six games remaining in the regular season and with Holtby and the Washington Capitals vying for a postseason berth, it’s up to Sabourin and the Bears to push even harder as they move into the Calder Cup Playoffs.