Wednesday, May 15, 2019

How Reece Scarlett Made the Most of a Season Lost to Injury

With his season over on opening night, Scarlett had to find new ways to contribute...
Reece Scarlett (Credit: Texas Stars)
It goes without saying that it wasn’t the season anyone had planned for Texas defenseman Reece Scarlett.

First game of the season, third period against Grand Rapids at H-E-B Center, “I just went into the corner with… I think it was [Chris] Terry. I don’t know, he sort of bounced off the boards and sort of fell in on me. I almost went into like a butterfly that I was not prepared to go into. Not a goalie, never been a goalie. My knee wasn’t supposed to go that way.

“You know, sometimes you get a charlie horse, or you twist something and you know that it’s just okay, that you’ll be able to come back. But even just trying to get off the ice, I knew it wasn’t right.”

The prognosis for Scarlett was a torn ACL, minimum recovery time of six to nine months. He knew forty minutes into the new season that he was already done for the year.

“Disbelief, just disappointment. I was excited to come into training camp, and I thought I did a really good job of proving myself to be a capable call-up if I ever got the chance. I was really excited to get the season going. And then it was, like I said, just disappointment and disbelief. It was a pretty bleak point.”

Texas Stars head coach Derek Laxdal called the unfortunate injury a big loss for the team, “Any time you lose a player, especially a veteran player who was one of our spiritual leaders in the back end, it’s a pretty big shot. Losing him was a big, big blow.”

But Scarlett never gave up on helping his team even though he wouldn’t play another minute of competitive hockey in the 2018-19 season.

Scarlett set out his mantra for the season from that point out, “Put your head down and go to work. Things might not always go your way, but it’s just how you deal with it. And that was the attitude that I tried to put forward and hopefully instill in others as well.”

Scarlett was a trade acquisition for the Dallas Stars. He put up a couple points in thirteen games to start the 2017-18 season in Springfield and then was swapped with Ludwig Bystrom. As Texas went deep in the playoffs last summer, Scarlett set a steady pairing with Andrew Bodnarchuk, finding his groove in the organization and setting himself up for a big year. Then, October 5th. Opening night was also closing night for Scarlett, and the long road to recovery started almost immediately.

Surgery isn’t always immediate for a torn ACL. Scarlett did some rehab to gain strength and movement in the knee before surgery to improve post-surgical recovery time. On October 24th in Dallas, Dr. William Robertson cut out Scarlett’s left patellar tendon and placed it where the torn ACL had been. Recovery went quickly. “I got to go on the ice probably about a month [later] by myself just messing around. We would just do basic six or seven year old [drills]: skate around in a circle, crossover, stuff like that.”

Within a few months, he noted he felt like a ‘normal human being,’ getting through day-to-day life without any pain. To begin athletic recovery, he and the rehab team had to walk a fine line to avoid re-injury. Even though he wasn’t going to play, the Texas training staff, including head athletic trainer Shay McGlynn, came in early to help Scarlett through his rehab.

“Hats off to Shay and our training staff helper, Hank [Petersen]. They did an unbelievable job being there for me everyday. They were coming to the rink early everyday. That’s their job, but at the same time, I wasn’t necessarily a priority in terms of guys playing, so I really appreciated the effort they put in as well.”

The organization offered Scarlett the opportunity to do his recovery back at home in Canada, but it didn’t even register as a possibility for him. “I’m under contract to play hockey for the Dallas Stars organization, and those are my teammates, those are my friends. And that’s where I wanted to be. So it was never an option for me to go home.”

Scarlett felt he needed to find a way to still contribute to the team in his recovery. He found that in video work. Wearing a suit and tie with a view of the ice from high above, the defenseman would watch the games and construct video breakdowns of plays.

(Credit: Texas Stars)
“I was able to just take some video clips for defensemen, and in the next couple of days after the game do video with the guys and show them what I see, get their perspective.”

Both players benefit from this arrangement. Aside from the coaching that Scarlett provided, he picked up on the finer points of every other player’s game to adapt into his own. “Just being able to watch different defensemen closely. Everybody plays a different style; everybody thinks the game a little bit differently. So for me being able to watch [Bayreuther]’s confidence breaking the puck out or Gleason’s confidence in general.

“It was helpful for me to see different options and different ways of doing things. It was sort of win-win for both of us, for the D corps and myself. Hopefully they got something out of it, I know I did. It also made home games a little more enjoyable. I get to be a part of the team somehow and not just sitting up there.”

Coach Laxdal complimented Scarlett on his work to stay involved and help the team any way he could, “We utilized him at home to help us with the D and a little bit of video work. Just monitor and look for things. Just to take his mind off of not playing and allow him to be part of the team. He embraced it and was great in the room. I think it made the season go a lot quicker for him.”

It was especially tough for Scarlett to see Dallas call up so many defenseman from Texas. It’s nearly certain he would have played his first NHL game this season if it weren’t for the injury. “It was a little bit tough to swallow. You always feel like you have an opportunity, you’re always close. Luckily, for half our D corps, it was the right time right place for them, and I couldn’t have been happier for them.”

Texas Stars General Manager Scott White noted the year he’d had in an interview earlier this summer, “It was a hell of year for him and he’s still got a ways to go. It’s a serious injury when you blow your knee out. He’s done everything right and I think he’s in the best shape he’s ever been in. The coaches will remember Reece from last training camp.” Laxdal agreed, calling Scarlett’s past few months the best training he’s probably had in his career. Scarlett added a few pounds in the weight room with intense rehab sessions.

Still, the circumstances stung for the player, “Guys go up and live their dream, and I was just struggling to move my knee. It was crazy to watch, but at the end of the day, you gotta just put your head down and work and trust that everything you do is worth it in the end. Hopefully I know I’m gonna come back stronger next year and hopefully that luck might come my way.”

It’s barely a month into the offseason, but Scarlett has already started his summer workout routine. He joked it’s hard to justify taking much time off given how rested his body is. It is expected that Dallas will qualify the defenseman and bring him back to the organization for another year. He was also able to get back on the ice with the team late in the season. In a red no-contact jersey, #24 dashed up and down the ice, participating in drills for the first time in six months.

“That was one of the highlights of my year, honestly. Just being able to be out there and be myself. You’re one person off the ice, you’re one person in day-to-day life, and for me when I’m out there playing hockey, that’s who I am. It felt really good to be out there, and I felt like myself again.”

Additional reporting provided by Ryan Pennington.

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