SAN JOSE There was a surprise participant in the Sharks morning skate on Saturday.
James Sheppard hasnt played an NHL game since the end of the 2009-10 season due to a serious left knee injury suffered in an offseason ATV accident as a member of the Minnesota Wild. Hes still weeks away from playing in a competitive game, but is desperately trying to resuscitate his professional career.
Its the second time this season Sheppard is attempting to join his new teammates for practice. He originally returned on Nov. 18, but was quickly shut down. Until now.
It wasnt a setback, we wanted to build more muscle, Sheppard said. Were happy with our decision.
One difference between then and now is that hes not thinking about the knee anymore, and notices a difference already as compared to when he first returned. At that time, he said he felt like he was skating in mud.
Right now when I skate and get warmed up, I dont think about my knee, and thats where you have to be, he said. If youre thinking about your knee injury the whole time, theres no point.
Although he could finally be back on the right track, its hard to imagine Sheppard will have any kind of impact on the Sharks current season. Hes set a personal goal of playing in a competitive game by March 1, but that would almost certainly be in the American Hockey League on a conditioning assignment.
My personal date is Im not going to go past March 1 without playing a game, he said. Thats a reasonable goal, but its one that I will reach.
At this point, though, its one day at a time.
All I want is good days, Sheppard said. You have good days, and the next day is bright. Its not dull; its not muddy.