The physical work was the easy part.
That was something understandable, even with the limitations that come in going through rehabilitation after shoulder surgery. Getting strength and fitness back, those are things athletes easily grasp.
After shoulder surgery and a back injury, Taylor Law returned to the Canisius hockey team much the same player.
The only problem was, his team had changed in the meantime.
And Law’s bigger challenge came in finding, embracing and excelling at his new role.
Two seasons ago, as a sophomore, Law was a top-six forward earning Most Valuable Player honors from the Golden Griffins.
Last year a shoulder injury shut him down for most of the season. He watched from the stands as his teammates morphed into an Atlantic Hockey championship team.
After a brief setback with an unrelated back injury, Law returned to the ice for the Griffs this season. The senior has seen his role evolve from an expected offensive threat to a third-line and power play guy.
But that doesn’t diminish the importance of his contributions.
Law played his best weekend in two seasons against Mercyhurst, scoring two critical goals for the Griffs in their 7-4 upset of the first-place Lakers in Erie. It was the first two-goal game for Law since he scored two against Sacred Heart on Jan. 22, 2012.
He now has four goals in 13 games this season as the Griffs head to Springfield, Mass., for games with American International tonight and Saturday.
“I feel 100 percent now,” Law said. “I’m able to hit hard and am able to do everything on the ice, off the ice. It feels good.”
In all, Law has missed 39 games over the past two seasons with injuries. Last season, he injured his shoulder and tried to play through it before realizing it was more serious than first thought. He had surgery and missed the final 28 games.
Law played the first three games this season before injuring his back and missing the next 11 games.
“It was a little tough coming off a year like the one I had before with injuries,” Law said. “You just can’t help but assume the worst when you come back. You start to think, maybe this is another bad one, but thankfully it wasn’t.”
The injuries certainly haven’t altered his style of play at all.
“I don’t think it has changed him,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “He’s 6-2, 200 pounds and an absolute truck. He’s still physical. He can take anyone on one-on-one with a physical check. He had that before and he still has that.”
But what he doesn’t have is a spot on the top two lines. And that has been an adjustment both for Law and for the coaching staff.
As a sophomore in 2011-12, he tied with Kyle Gibbons for the team lead in points with 26, scoring 11 goals with 15 assists. The team awarded him MVP honors and he was set up for a breakout junior season before the injuries.
While Law worked on range of motion and strengthening his shoulder, the Griffs developed new players, found new offensive combinations and Law’s role changed upon his return to the ice.
“It’s more the mental aspect of getting back because you think that you’re going to come back a certain way and it’s definitely a bit of an adjustment to try and stay positive,” Law said.
“I think what happened is he was building on that sophomore season and expectations probably exceeded reality during the time that he was off,” Smith said. “And everything was going to be perfect. And then when it wasn’t it led to some frustration.
“Taylor’s been a top two-line guy for most of his time here and right now that’s not his role. His role is to chip in on offense and play the power play and be a big physical presence because our team has changed in the two years that he’s been injured. Now his value is as great, but expectations are different. His expectations should not lead to frustration. We sat down, we clarified what I expect of him and what his role is and I thought he really flourished in it.”
While Canisius is at AIC for two games, Niagara plays twice on the road with games at Sacred Heart tonight and Saturday.