Atkinson, after not knowing ‘what the hell is going on,' feels set for better road


Cam Atkinson became emotional as he recounted the long and frustrating road, full of unknowns, because of an injury to his neck area.

"Where do I start?" he said with a slight laugh.

The 33-year-old winger never played a game for the Flyers this season.

In December, he eventually realized surgery was his reality.

"Just the process of the return to play," Atkinson said last Friday. "I just ... I couldn't get through a practice by myself."

But his status mentally and physically has changed for the better heading into the offseason. At his end-of-the-season press conference, Atkinson said he was feeling "really good" and hoping to be cleared for contact this week.

"Revving it up even more than I ever have," he said of his summer training. "Itching for next season to start already, selfishly."

His excitement in April for next season is fueled by having answers, some much-needed clarity on an issue that wreaked havoc.

"I've been very fortunate and lucky with whatever injury I have, I heal pretty quickly," Atkinson said. "It was just the emotion of, like, not being told what the hell is going on, when I know I'm not feeling good. That was the crappy part. I feel great. I trust the process of who's here and giving guys rehab and obviously our team doctors. It just was a crazy year. I'm just looking forward."

Despite not playing in any of the Flyers' six preseason games, Atkinson was able to practice throughout the majority of training camp. John Tortorella had expressed optimism about Atkinson's status for the season opener, but things changed later in October.

Atkinson had to take a step back from the ice and go for further evaluation.

"Just wasn't feeling well at the start of training camp," he said. "Got a couple of different MRIs and a couple of misdiagnoses. Finally saw someone that told me I had a herniated disc in my C6-C7 and that I needed to get surgery right away.

"At the time, I really didn't want to get surgery because it kind of freaked me out a little bit, going through the neck. I was being told differently. I went through the process of trying to rehab naturally, I went back to Columbus for a little bit to see some people that I trust and I know. Came back here feeling pretty good, thought that I could kind of return to play [Dec. 9-15] when we went on that road trip."

When Atkinson struggled to get through practices, he saw Dr. Alexander Vaccaro, a spine consultant for the Eagles.

"He pretty much reassured me that if I don't take care of my atrophy in my left triceps, that I probably wouldn't be able to play again," Atkinson said. "So I got surgery three days later. I woke up and felt unbelievable. All the pain, that I couldn't sleep, was gone.

"Just a tough year. ... I know this is a huge summer for me and I want to be part of the solution. I'm going to push myself more than ever. Seeing these young guys take a step, some guys take a huge step forward, it only fuels me to push myself and push the young guys. I don't think we're as far off as people think, especially if guys are healthy and certain things happen this offseason.

"I feel great. I feel the best I've felt in a long, long time. It's nice to be able to shoot the puck the way that I've been able to shoot the puck in the past. Just looking forward to starting next season."

The Flyers had an alarming number of injuries last season and dealt with instances of reinjury, as well. Prior to this season, the organization made some new hires on the medical side, including Ian McKeown as its vice president of athlete performance and wellness and Tommy Alva as its head athletic trainer.

"Went through a pretty significant change, the head athletic trainers and bringing in new guys that I didn't know, as well," Atkinson said. "So you're trying to trust certain people. I have all my trust in Tommy and the team that's here now. It obviously took a little bit of time just because, like, I was going through things that I've never experienced and listening to this guy, that guy, people telling me this, someone telling me that — it was just kind of a gong show. But it definitely has gotten straightened out and it's going to continue to get better. I've been rehabbing here since my surgery for the last couple months and trust them."

Tortorella was made aware of Atkinson's comments about the misdiagnoses.

"I wish he didn't go down that road," the head coach said Monday, "but as I read further, he did come back around and talk about the medical staff in the proper way. Because they have worked their ass off to get this scab, a major cut that has hung around this organization, to get it right. We're on the right road there. I want you guys to understand that — we are on the right road with some good people.

"Is it still progressing? Yes, it still needs to be filled in with other people. But our players were looked after. Cam was looked after. There was a misdiagnosis out there in Columbus, too, and it happens. People are trying to do the best they can for the athletes. I know it's been a sore spot here. Is it fixed? It's not fixed yet, but we're on the right road here."

Atkinson went from winning the Bobby Clarke Trophy in Year 1 with the Flyers to not playing in Year 2.

He's hoping for a better road in Year 3.

"I read a lot of different books that are mental toughness books throughout my whole college career and kind of going back to what keeps me in a positive mindset," Atkinson said. "A lot has happened this year. My wife gave birth in January. You can imagine the roller coaster; I got surgery the week before that.

"I knew I wasn't going to play this season after I got the surgery, so I kind of put my mind on just getting better, take the time that I need to get back to myself and feeling good. I feel pretty good right now."

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