Every athlete talks about how they battle the ups and downs throughout their careers. However, Washington Capitals forward Max Pacioretty was dealing with the downs for just under a year. After fully recovering from an Achilles’ tendon tear, he suffered over the 2022 offseason, the 34-year-old made his return with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Unfortunately on Jan. 18, 2023, Pacioretty re-tore his right Achilles and once again had to go through the recovery process. At one point he contemplated calling it a career.
“There was a good, solid two, three months where I was ready to stop playing. I’ve spent a good portion of the last year in bed, not being able to do things with my family and my kids, travel to their hockey tournaments and for me, that was really difficult,” Pacioretty said. “But when I do look at the situation or my kids and my family, I don’t want to ever say that I gave up on something that I could have continued doing. So it’s important for me to do this for myself, but also for my family and my kids to kind of show them that we can get through this together.”
But rather than hanging up the skates early, Pacioretty decided to change up his rehab process and grind through his mental and physical hurdles.
“You would think that I have an entirely different injury right now than I had the first time and I know maybe that could be interpreted as we’re just taking things slower because it’s not the first time it’s happened,” Pacioretty said. “I guess milestones aren’t any different than the first time, it’s just an entirely different program. And obviously I had to do something different than the first time.”
Along the lines of changing his rehab program, the former Montreal Canadiens captain had to adjust on the ice as well. His skates would not fit his foot because his Achilles was larger than the last time he laced up the skates.
“Playing for so long and wearing the same skates for so long, there are significant tweaks you have to make, and it took a little bit of time to get that figured out. But I do feel confident that we have it right,” Pacioretty said. “There’s a lot of tweaks and a lot of different things behind the scenes that people are doing to help me to make sure that I’m able to go out there and perform and stay healthy, so I’m thankful for all the people that are helping me with that.”
Throughout his lengthy healing journeys, the left-winger has been able to use his experiences to help other players dealing with the same injuries. Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Quinn tore his Achilles in July and one of his teammates reached out to Pacioretty to see what path Quinn should take. He ended up seeing the same surgeon that Pacioretty saw and has been doing well.
“Unfortunately I’ve become a bit of an expert on Achilles and obviously not every situation is the same. But I’ve seen the good, the bad, the ugly and kind of know a lot about this now,” Pacioretty said.
Now that Pacioretty is slowly making his way back on the ice, the question becomes what he can bring to the Capitals lineup. The storyline through the first 10 games of Washington’s season has been the inability to score goals. The Caps are scoring 1.90 goals per game, which is 31st in the NHL.
The 2007 first-round pick has been a consistent goal scorer throughout his 15-year NHL career. He has scored 30 goals six times in his career. The last time he tallied 30-plus goals was in the 2019-20 season with the Vegas Golden Knights. He had 32 goals in 71 games and in just five games with Carolina, he racked up three goals. His scoring touch is why the Caps signed him to a one-year, $2 million contract.
Though he did not give a timeline of when he would suit up, Pacioretty believes that can return to his old self and give the Caps a big boost offensively once he does.
“I feel like I’m getting my life back,” Pacioretty said. “This is what I was born to do so it feels like some normalcy in my life and I definitely have much more of a smile on my face now… I think we painted a pretty clear picture now as to what I need to do to get back to being myself.”
By Jacob Cheris