Blue Jacket’s Atkinson Strong Since His Return From Injury
By Paul Silverfarb
Although Columbus Blue Jackets forward and Greenwich native Cam Atkinson had a slow start to the 2019-20 season, the forward was starting to find his groove.
During a stretch in December, Atkinson was on a roll, scoring five goals in seven days and was beginning to feel like himself again. Then came the game on Dec. 19 against the Los Angeles Kings.
Atkinson played only 14 shifts and netted his lowest amount of ice time for the reason, leaving the game for what was called a “lower body injury.” Turns out that the Columbus alternative captain had an ankle injury and would be out possibly four to six weeks.
The two-time All-Star didn’t take the injury laying down, working every day to get back on the ice as fast as possible. All the hard work getting that ankle healed and back into game shape has paid off for Atkinson, who has been lights out since his return.
“I rode the bike every day and was skating every day with the skills coach and got a lot of touches on the ice,” Atkinson said. “Our skills coach, Kenny [McCudden] is great. I worked with him every day, one-on-one, and shot a bunch of pucks. He put me in a bunch of uncomfortable situations to kind of get me in game mode. I owe a lot to him.”
Atkinson said that it feels good that he’s been an immediate contributor and helping the team climb in the standings.
“I feel like I have been playing my game as of late, so all is good,” Atkinson said. “I want to get on the scoresheet. Before I got hurt I thought I was playing really well. I had like five goals in seven games. The injury was just one of those unfortunate things, but I started right where I left off and I am feeling really good about my game and confident.”
During his first game back since the Dec. 19 game against the Kings, Atkinson finished with a goal and assist in a victory against the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 16 and took home 15:33 of ice time. On Jan. 17, Atkinson led Columbus to a 5-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils, netting two goals and an assist.
During the Blue Jacket’s game against the Rangers on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, Atkinson played in his first back-to-back game. In addition to his regular duties on the top line, Atkinson was in his usual spot, playing on the Blue Jacket’s first power play unit.
Although he didn’t find the back of the net for Columbus, who ended up beating the Rangers in the final seconds of the game, Atkinson was definitely a presence on the ice.
Early in the second period, the Rangers were in solid position to find the back of the net, as they worked the puck deep in the Blue Jackets zone, but just before the shot was fired at net, Atkinson got a stick on the puck to deflect it out of harm’s way.
In addition to the stellar defense Atkinson had a few quality chances to tally a goal, but New York goalie Igor Shestvorkin was up the challenge and made the saves.
While Atkinson certainly has seen a lot of work in his first week back from injury, he’s still feeling no serious effects.
“My ankle is a little sore, but it’s the nature of the game,” Atkinson said. “Everybody stepped up [Sunday], especially our goalie, but it feels good to get a win here in New York and a good step to see how my ankle holds up.”
Atkinson has quickly adjusted from his time away from the ice and has been a constant presence for the surging Blue Jackets.
“It’s all about playing hard and playing the right way,” Atkinson said. “We are playing good hockey and finding ways to win and having fun. We know the guys that we have in the locker room and don’t really worry about the outside noise. We stuck with the process and guys have stepped up when other guys got hurt and it’s great for the organization.”
As a team, Columbus has been climbing in the standings on a consistent basis as of late. A team that was looking up to a lot of teams in the Eastern Conference, the Blue Jackets have been on fire as of late. With only one more game to play before the All-Star break, Wednesday against the Winnipeg Jets, Columbus sits as one of the two teams in the wild card spot.
Before the ankle injury that sidelined the Greenwich standout, he had nine goals and 12 assists, well off the average he’s been used to seeing since his breakout 2016-17 campaign. Despite the lower numbers so far this year, Atkinson is far from worried and is ready to break out in a big way after next week’s All-Star break is over.
“We’re excited,” Atkinson said. “We just want to keep playing hockey and keep playing the way we have been playing. If we do that, we will have success.”