by Jamie Palatini || AHL On The Beat Archive
When Rhett Rakhshani jumped on the ice for his first game this season, he said the feeling was different from any other “first game” he’s had in his career.
“It was really cool,” Rakhshani explained. “That was one of those games for me: I was excited to wake up, to eat, to be around the guys, and to jump on the ice for the first time.”
He went on to record two assists in a 5-3 come-from-behind win over Adirondack that day, 43 days after the Sound Tigers had opened their 2011-12 season.
Rakhshani entered 2011 Islanders Training Camp looking to crack the Isles roster following his impressive rookie campaign which included Sound Tigers rookie franchise records in goals (24), assists (38) and points (62), as well as a trip to the 2011 AHL All-Star Classic and a place on the 2010-11 AHL All-Rookie Team.
“I thought I was able to make a difference out there,” Rakhshani said of his rookie campaign. “There were mixed emotions because you always want to be part of a winning team, so as a team last year it was tough with all of the turnover on our roster and losing those games. Personally, being able to put up the points I did, play in the All-Star Game and play a coupIe games in the NHL, I thought the season went very well for me.”
However, this year was different from last year. Rakhshani sustained a concussion during a rookie game against Boston early in September. After being sidelined for a couple of weeks, he returned to the ice, practiced and made his preseason debut in Calgary. But his preseason lasted just a couple of periods. Rakhshani sustained a left knee injury in that game against the Flames that would keep him out of game action for nearly two months.
For the first time in his entire hockey career, Rakhshani had been sidelined with an injury serious enough to keep him off the ice for a considerable amount of time.
“It was really hard. Last year I went through it a little bit with a concussion, but pretty much my whole career I never missed a significant amount of time. I’ve dealt with minor, day-to-day injuries where you know you’ll be back soon. To be told you’ll be out for eight weeks right after you’ve missed two weeks because of a concussion… it’s tough to keep your head through that.”
A routine that had become ingrained in Rakhshani’s being for years was no longer the routine. He wasn’t lacing up the skates. He wasn’t practicing his one-timer after a hard practice. The 23-year-old who was 3,000 miles from home was wearing a knee brace and watching his teammates play the game he loved while he had to sit and wait his turn.
“It was very important for me to stay positive,” Rakhshani explained. “My family was very important in supporting me and helping me stay positive. It was a new experience for me and something I’d never been through.”
In addition to support from his family, Rhett also had a familiar face alongside him for support. Sound Tigers defenseman Mark Katic suffered a shoulder injury during the preseason around the same time as Rakhshani, and is hopeful to return to the lineup by the end of February.
“It was good to have Katic around to talk to and be with during that time,” Rakhshani said. “We got to talk about a lot of these things, and I know his situation is a lot harder than mine. It kind of put things into perspective for me… I would work to encourage him and he’d encourage me.”
The Huntington Beach, Calif., native is also a devout Christian, and looked to his faith to guide him through one of the toughest times in his life.
“I put a lot of faith in God, knowing his plans are way bigger than my plans,” Rakhshani said “So many times you feel like you are in control of everything — if I’ve wanted to get to the next level, I’ve worked hard to get there and I’ve been able to accomplish it. This was a situation where I wasn’t in control.”
What was initially a negative turned into a chance for Rakhshani to take a breath and look at the big picture.
“It was a good opportunity to take a step back and get perspective that I’m not in complete control,” Rakhshani explained. “It was a reminder to me that I’ve got to follow God’s plans and let go of the things I’m holding on to. I think He wants me to pursue my dreams and hockey because I’ve been blessed with the talents to do so. I think this will make me stronger and help me become the man I’m going to be five or 10 years from now.”
After weeks of rehab and work, Rakhshani returned to practice in the early portion of November and made his debut on that Sunday afternoon against Adirondack. While other players had their training camps during September, Rakhshani’s came during his first month of playing in November and December.
“This first month was a little bit of a training camp for me, definitely some trial and error,” Rakhshani said. “I was making some mistakes that I wouldn’t normally make because my timing wasn’t there. I’d be saying to myself, ‘Why am I making those plays? I’d never make those plays!’, but it was just because I needed to regain my timing.”
Rakhshani said he was “looking to take a huge step forward after the winter break,” and did he ever. After the league’s break around the Christmas holiday, Rakhshani posted an impressive 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) and a plus-18 rating in just 15 games, leading the Sound Tigers on an improbable 10-0-0-1 run to open the 2012 calendar year.
That was followed with Rakhshani’s second career recall to the Islanders, where he helped the Sound Tigers’ parent club to two important victories. Rakhshani knows that he can’t use his injury earlier in the season as a crutch, and expects to improve on his stellar rookie season.
“I have goals that I want to achieve this year, and just because I was injured doesn’t mean I should hold myself back. I think that I can get back to what I was doing last year and be even better with my growth mentally and physically. I want to be better than I was last year.”