William Carrier was his own worst enemy.
The 22-year-old forward was experiencing pain in his knee. But he kept playing until it was so bad, he had to sit out.
It was only supposed to be a few days, but it turned into a longer stint on the injury list. Then he tried to come back early, skating a bit too hard on his own. Cue the setback.
Now, after missing 24 games, Carrier is healthy, pain free, and eager to return to the Buffalo Sabres lineup.
Carrier, along with Kyle Okposo and Dmitry Kulikov, returned to practice with the team Thursday in HarborCenter. All three are possibilities to be back in the lineup when the Sabres host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
It’s felt like a long time for Carrier, who made his NHL debut this season after spending the last two with the Rochester Americans. He worked his way into a regular spot in the lineup with his speed and versatility.
“Will really added to our lineup with his speed and he’s got a little bite and grit in how he plays,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “He played sometimes with Ryan O’Reilly and Kyle and added speed to that line. He played a little bit up and down the lineup but that’s a big part of what he was able to bring to our team. He’s been out for a while so just getting him back, getting him some practice, hopefully he can bring that when he gets back in the lineup.”
Carrier didn’t think he would be sidelined this long, last playing Feb. 2 against the New York Rangers. Carrier said he had been playing through the injury and made a bad situation worse.
“Actually, I think it was me hitting someone,” Carrier said when asked how the injury happened, “and I kept playing on it for a good three weeks and it got worse and worse and I couldn’t deal with it anymore. It was only supposed to be a few days off.”
Then came the rehabilitation, which Carrier admits to pushing.
“Probably two weeks in I started skating and knowing myself I think I went a little too hard on the ice the first two sessions and I got a setback that put me back on crutches,” he said.
While Carrier was learning the hard way that rest is often the quickest way back to the ice, Okposo had no choice but to rest. He had difficulty even taking a deep breath after suffering a rib injury against Arizona on March 2.
“The first 10 days or so were not good. They were just a whole lot of nothing. A whole lot of pain,” Okposo said. “It’s frustrating because you just can’t move. I couldn’t pick my kids up. That part is tough.”
But once he turned the corner, the recovery process went quicker than he expected. Now the Sabres get not only one of their best offensive talents back but return a leader in the dressing room who is eager to be part of the solution.
“We missed a ton with Kyle not in our lineup,” Bylsma said. “At the time when he was injured he was the leading point-getter on our team. He’s a presence offensively for our team on the ice but I think even more just the leadership that he’s shown is what we’ve missed.”
Okposo most missed time with his teammates, interacting with them in the locker room and finding ways to try and inject more consistency into the Sabres’ game as they close out the season.
“There’s a lot of things here that I think we can get better at … so that time away is just frustrating because I want to grow with this team and help the team grow,” Okposo said.
“We need to start with being a better team consistently. Just seems like we get outplayed for too many periods. When we do have good periods, we’re as good as anybody. We really can play with anybody when we’re on. I just think we need to tap into that more. We need to find a way to get that more in our game.”