Sharks' Tomas Hertl bringing positive mindset to arduous rehab process


Sharks' Tomas Hertl bringing positive mindset to arduous rehab process

SAN JOSE -- Tomas Hertl stood tall and without crutches on Monday morning, a heavy wrap and a large, long brace supporting a left knee surgically repaired less than two weeks earlier.

The Sharks’ center kept pointing to positives during a 12-minute meeting with the media, with nothing in his body language belying the words coming out of his mouth.

“I don’t know how he does it,” Sharks interim head coach Bob Boughner said, “but he still has a smile on his face every day.”

Hertl has reason to rock a frown. He was in the midst of a career year, four days removed from his first NHL All-Star Game appearance when an odd collision with Vancouver defenseman Chris Tanev tore his left knee’s ACL and MCL.

Hertl knew something structurally was wrong with his joint but felt good about his rehab prospects while skating off the ice under his own power. Initial optimism was so high the Sharks even considered wrapping the knee up for a return to the game. Hertl balked at the idea, knowing from experience that his MCL wasn’t right. He lost 45 games of the 2013-14 campaign rehabbing a torn MCL and PCL and, despite a significant physical setback, was keeping fingers crossed for a similar prognosis.

A next-day MRI didn’t deliver such news. It revealed the worst-case scenario instead.

“I had been there [and the imaging center] many times over the years for MRIs, so it was tough for them to tell me it was the ACL,” Hertl said. “They know what it takes to get through it. Sometimes people get lucky. Sometimes they don’t. I’m just focused on looking forward to get working and get back. That will be a tough break for me, but I’m going to be back in September playing hockey again.

"I’m going to come back better than ever.”

Hertl was resolute in those last two statements. His drive is based in making those predictions come true.

He also knows depression hurts the effort. That’s why Hertl is focused solely on the positive despite disappointing news and the long rehab ahead.

“The hardest part is [taking care of] the head,” Hertl said. “That’s what the guys say. There are long days in rehab, and you’re not really part of the team because you’re just at a gym with physical therapists. You’re not playing the games. It’s not easy being away from hockey, but you have to keep a positive mind. The guys around here are great and making jokes. I don’t mind working out and I know I will come back stronger and I will have no issues.

"I’m looking forward to the work every day to make progress with my knee.”

[RELATED: How Sharks improved since Boughner was named interim coach]

Hertl plans to stay in San Jose as the season wraps, hopefully heading home for the summer as usual. He should be ready to walk comfortably by that point after a few months in rehab.

His workouts resumed on Monday, with some cardio working on both arms and his healthy leg. There’s significant work ahead on the knee, especially while re-gaining full range of motion and strength in surrounding muscle. That process is just starting even with surgery freshly placed into the memory bank.

The Tanev collision is right there, too, though he harbors no ill will for the way he got hurt. Hertl was working to snag a pass beyond the net when the defenseman came in hot and low. The impact pushed Hertl up against the boards, an incident that caused damage to his knee.

“It was just a moment where we hit knee on knee,” Hertl said. “That’s just bad luck. That’s how it happens sometimes. Sometimes you take a huge hit and nothing happens and other times you get hurt on something small.”

Hertl refuses to let that add to his frustration. It mounted shortly after receiving bad news on his ACL and during a subsequent call with his mother. He quickly brought levity to the situation and remains committed to being around those with a similar attitude during this rough patch.

“The rehab can be long and boring. There’s always something to do with it,” Hertl said. “… I was really bummed the first few days. I was coming off the All-Star Game and everything was great. I was feeling good again playing hockey. But there’s nothing I can do about that now other than focus on positive signs.

"I would be more mad if it were the last week of the season and I was going to miss the offseason and part of the next one. I have a long seven or eight months ahead, but I can heal up to full strength and get ready to go for next year.”

Sharks' Mario Ferraro reveals lesson learned in whirlwind rookie year

Sharks' Mario Ferraro reveals lesson learned in whirlwind rookie year

Mario Ferraro has surpassed the wildest of expectations in his rookie season with the Sharks, and it hasn't exactly been an uneventful one.

Since making the jump straight from college to the pros, the 21-year-old defenseman has witnessed a mid-season coaching change, the acquisition and eventual trading of a franchise legend, a seemingly endless string of serious injuries to roster cornerstones and -- oh yeah -- an indefinite pause of the NHL season due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Not exactly your average rookie year.

Technically, Ferraro's rookie season hasn't come to an end -- at least not yet. Commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday that there currently is too much uncertainty for the league to be able to determine when the season might be able to resume, though he hopes to "know more by the end of April." In any case, even if San Jose was able to play out its remaining games, there are only 12 left. Considering the Sharks fell to the absolute bottom of the NHL standings right before the season was paused, an additional playoff run is entirely out of the question.

So, for all intents and purposes, we can't really consider Ferraro a rookie anymore. He has 61 career NHL games under his belt, so, really, that has been the case for a while.

Ferraro flew back to Toronto shortly before the Bay Area's shelter-in-place orders went into effect, and has been doing his best to stay in shape while living at his parents' house. In a recent discussion with NBC Sports California's Brodie Brazil, he described an important lesson that was crucial to his development as a rookie.

"I think one small thing that's actually not small at all when you really look at it," Ferraro said, "is just preparation and that mentality of staying even-keel the whole year. What I mean by that is not getting too high on the highs or too low on the lows. You have so many games and so many important games that if you have a good game one night, you better forget about it because you gotta do the same thing the next night. Or, vice versa, if you play poorly, you really gotta forget about it and bounce back strong.

"And it's not just from game to game -- it's from shift to shift. You're playing in a league that has really fast players, strong players. You can get exposed, and it's going to happen. People are going to make mistakes. I'm a defenseman, so I feel like you're more bound to make mistakes ... they're more glaringly obvious. From a mental perspective, you really have to learn to just kind of say, OK, it happened. Move on. Let's get back to my game and play hard."

While Ferraro is correct that no player is exempt from making mistakes, he didn't have too many glaring errors throughout his first season in the NHL -- or at least, he did a good job covering them up. He earned the trust of the coaching staff and was rewarded with additional opportunities, which he proved capable of handling. Over the last eight games before the season was paused, Ferraro averaged over 20 minutes of ice time per night.

[RELATED: Leonard reunited with college roommate Ferraro on Sharks]

In terms of mentors on the team, Ferraro specifically mentioned fellow defenseman Brent Burns as someone who has been tremendously helpful to him. And like seemingly everyone else in that locker room, Ferraro is a big fan of Joe Thornton. But ultimately, it has been a team effort in supporting Ferraro throughout his rookie year. It takes a village, after all.

"Nobody's counted out on this team," Ferraro explained. "They're all great guys. They've all taught me a ton this year, and we're really close. It has been a good learning curve for me."

While we're all focused on flattening the curve, it has long been evident that -- as a rookie -- Ferraro's wasn't very steep.

Gary Bettman says NHL examining 'all options' for coronavirus restart


Gary Bettman says NHL examining 'all options' for coronavirus restart

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday there is too much uncertainty for the league to determine a target date to return amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and that they hope to "know more by the end of April."

“From an NHL standpoint, we’re viewing all of our options," Bettman told NBC Sports' Mike Tirico on "Lunch Talk Live" on Tuesday (via Pro Hockey Talk). "We want to be ready to go as soon as we get a green light -- and the green light may not be crystal clear because there may still be some places in the [U.S. and Canada] where we can’t play and others places where you can.

"We’re looking at all options. Nothing’s been ruled in, nothing’s been ruled out. And it’s largely going to be determined what we do by how much time there is because we have next season to focus on as well.”

The NHL suspended its season on March 12, a day after the NBA did the same following Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert's positive coronavirus test. Eight NHL players -- three on the Colorado Avalanche and five on the Ottawa Senators -- have tested positive.

[RELATED: Matthews, Marner detail how bromance with Marleau began]

Bettman said reports of the NHL looking into playing the remainder of its season at neutral sites -- including North Dakota, according to Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman -- reflected how "extraordinarily competitive" the teams were as they tried to ensure a fair finish to the regular season. The commissioner said the "best thing" for the NHL would be to finish the season as they normally do, but Bettman said the league understands that might not be possible.

"[That’s] why we’re considering every conceivable alternative to deal with whatever the eventuality is," Bettman said. "Again, it doesn’t even pay to speculate because nobody in any of the sports knows enough now to make those profound decisions.”