By Rob Rains
There was one fact about the Blues game on Thursday night which was almost equally as important as their 5-3 win over the Vegas Golden Knights at Enterprise Center.
For the first time in 635 long days, Robby Fabbri was back on the ice in an NHL game.
That’s how long it had been since the 22-year-old Fabbri suffered a torn ACL in a game on Feb. 4, 2017 – ironically Mike Yeo’s first game as the Blues coach – and before a second ACL tear on the same knee in training camp last year knocked him out for another season.
Fabbri said the long absence did not leave him more nervous than usual for his first game back, but any lingering nerves might have been erased when he earned an assist on his first shift back on the ice, on the first of two goals in the game by his linemate, Oskar Sundqvist.
“I felt I was able to play my game,” said Fabbri, who got a loud ovation from the fans when he stepped onto the ice for his first shift. “It was exciting for me and my family. They were all together tonight watching. It’s just fun to get back with the guys. Hopefully I keep going from here.”
Fabbri said there were several moments when he was back on the ice when he took a moment to appreciate it, well aware of what that long absence had been like.
“Warmups, the start of the game, hearing the fans on goals, all that is stuff you miss when you are sitting out,” he said. “The mental part (of not playing) was tougher than the physical part. Everyone is an NHL player here, they can work out and go through the rehab part with no problem, but staying positive and having the right mindset that you are working for the future, not worried about what has happened and what’s going on, I think I did a great job with that.”
Fabbri, playing on the fourth line, went on to log 8 minutes, 45 seconds of ice time on 14 shifts. He registered one shot on goal and had three shot attempts.
He also won the praise and admiration of his coach and teammates, who knew all he had gone through and had to overcome to get back on the ice.
“For me, that was more than what I was expecting from Robby to be honest with you,” Yeo said. “Confidence wise I thought he looked good. Obviously the offensive part of his game, that’s going to keep coming along. He made a couple of plays and he looked dangerous. I thought the all-around game was what was going to concern me about him … but you look at some of the things he was doing on the defensive side, I was really impressed.
“It’s a hard thing for a player to come back from something like this, something that he’s had to deal with, extremely hard. For me, Robby is a gamer. He’s going to find a way. He really wanted in this game. He expressed that to me in no uncertain terms, and I love that. I love that he wants to play and he wants to make a difference. He’s not there yet, but I saw tonight that he’s further along and closer to it than probably I thought.”
Goalie Jake Allen has been around since Fabbri looked like he was going to be a star for the Blues, before his injury setbacks, and has watched as he worked his way back.
“It was impressive; I thought he played great for his first game back,” Allen said. “I know he went down to the American league and played a couple of games but still to come up here and jump in the lineup right away; he had some great chances. He should be pretty proud of what he’s been through. It’s been a tough go.”
What kind of difference can a healthy Fabbri make for the Blues?
In Fabbri’s mind it’s what he gave the team in the past. “I’m ready to take off where I left off,” he said.
Said Allen, “You don’t want to throw expectations out there too bad, but you remember how good of a player he was and how good of a player he can be. I know he’s gone through a tough year and a half but he’s still young. Once he gets his feet wet I am sure he’ll get more opportunity and there will be good things to come.”
Added Yeo, “The next one will be a good indication. I think he earned enough to be in the next game. Hopefully he can keep building off this one …. I’m not betting against him.”