By Suzie Cool (@SuzKewl) | Published on October 23, 2019
Five months. Twenty-three days. Twenty-one hours. Twenty-nine minutes.
That’s how long it took defenseman Lawrence Pilut to get back into the game – down to the exact minute.
In the final game of the 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs, the Rochester Americans were facing off against the Toronto Marlies in an all-or-nothing matchup. And it was during Game 3 that Pilut took a second-period hit that sent him off the ice grabbing his left shoulder before returning for the final 20 minutes of what would be the Amerks 2018-19 season.
It’s hard to say what caused the initial blow to Pilut’s shoulder, it could’ve been the hit in that final playoff game, or it could have simply been the result of a chronic issue that lingered just a little too long. No matter the cause, the night of April 24, 2019, would have been Pilut’s last game regardless with a season-ending injury that led to a long road of recovery for the next six months.
Prior to puck-drop against the Cleveland Monsters last week, Pilut was more than ready to get back out on the ice with his teammates during his Amerks season debut.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “I get to get out there and contribute and hopefully get straight back into being me again.”
WATCH: LAWRENCE PILUT AFTER HIS FIRST GAME BACK
Last year was Pilut’s first pro season in North America, where he split time between the Buffalo Sabres and Amerks rosters. Before getting his nod to the big club, Pilut was dominating in the American Hockey League, making it no question as to why he was itching to get back into game action last Friday night.
In his first 16 games with Rochester last season, the blueliner accumulated 22 points while notching six multi-point efforts over the course of that span. After putting up a stellar stat line, it’s no surprise that just 16 games into his professional hockey career in North America Pilut got the call-up to the show come mid-November.
With such success early on with Rochester last season, Pilut remarked on the amount of patience and poise that it will take to get back to that level of play at the AHL.
“Just having patience with the puck out there that I’ve had before and just have the confidence and the poise with the puck that I know I can play with.”
On Nov. 20 of last year, the offensively talented defenseman made his National Hockey League debut against the Florida Panthers. For 33 games, Pilut appeared in game action with the Sabres, registering six points in his time on ice. Pilut notched his first NHL goal against the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 8 earlier this year, which also doubled as his 100th professional point, as his stats from the Swedish Hockey League crossover due to playing at the highest level in his native of Sweden.
At the end of the day, stats don’t lie, which makes Pilut’s road to recovery seem much easier than it may be for others to overcome. Over the summer, the defenseman underwent surgery on his left shoulder, and it wasn’t long after that he was gaining weight and participating in non-contact drills with the Amerks during their first couple of weeks of the brand-new season. Finally, after watching his teammates from the stands for the first five games of Rochester’s 2019-20 campaign, Pilut got the greenlight for game action.
The former SHL Defenseman of the Year is ready to take on the games full throttle, but assistant coach Toby Petersen commented on how the coaching staff is still trying to take things slow when getting their defenseman reacclimated to live play.
“He’s been off for a while – he’s been skating for a while – but he’s been out of game action for a while. We’re taking it slowly with him and we just want to make sure that his fundamentals are good, and his basics are where they need to be. We know he’s going to be good at making plays out there, he has great vision, does a lot of great things offensively, so we’re just focusing on getting him back into game action here.”
WATCH: GORD DINEEN POST-GAME ON OCT. 18
On his first night back in the lineup, Pilut was thrown into every game situation possible from the power-play and even in during the 3-on-3 overtime period. He was paired on the back-end with a more physical defenseman in Will Borgen, forcing him to play a more physical style which he feels helps add more momentum to his overall defensive game.
Following the Amerks two-game weekend, interim head coach Gord Dineen took note on how the blueliner performed after not playing in a tilt for almost six months.
“His conditioning is top end and his pace of play is definitely there. I think his reads might be a little different as time goes on from just being back in competitive hockey for the first time in six months. It takes a while and these other guys have all been through training camp, some rookie camps and they’ve been through a lot and they’re firing on a lot more cylinders right now. ‘Larry’ is a smart player, his reads will pick up, he’s intelligent and he’ll make adjustments.”
The focus has primarily been on Pilut’s road to recovery, but also worth mentioning was the overall excitement the locker room felt on the day of his comeback. Pilut is known for his infectious smile, and last Friday his teammates exuded that same excitement before and after he appeared in his first game back since last April.
Prior to Friday night’s tilt, captain Kevin Porter flashed a smile when asked about the return of the Amerks defenseman.
“I love watching him, he’s a great player and he’s real shifty. He’s great on the point and he gets pucks to the net. You know everyone is great at blocking shots now and he’s always great at finding a lane and getting pucks down to the forwards in the offensive zone.”
And following the game against Cleveland, forward Scott Wilson commented on the offensive-like skillset that Pilut brings to the table from the blueline.
“I think I pretty much speak for all the forwards; we don’t want to be skating up and down the ice all of the time. Having a guy like that back there to headman the puck through a few zones makes it easier for us.”
Although last Friday’s matchup against the Monsters may not have went in the Amerks favor, the team can all agree that they were more than excited to have Pilut back in the lineup. Pilut can help add to the power-play, get pucks to the forwards in the offensive zone, and most of all, add to the already tremendous team on-ice chemistry that Rochester has. Like a true perfectionist, though, and despite what he’s recovered from over the last six months, Pilut was not as satisfied with his first game back as he would’ve liked.
Following his season debut, Pilut remarked on cleaning it up and taking it to the next level in future games.
“Just getting back into game play, it’s different from practices and stuff. It’s a little speed and angle type stuff. I think a lot of shifts were good work, but at the same time I can clean up a lot of it and take it to the next level.”
When the puck dropped at exactly 7:07 p.m. last Friday night, it was the first time that Pilut had played in a tilt since that April night in that final playoff game up at Coca Cola Coliseum. Exactly five months, 23 days, 21 hours and 29 minutes later, he was more than ready for face-off in his Amerks season debut, ready to again take the AHL by storm and get back to just simply being him.