Imagine being hired by a Stanley Cup contender and having to wait six months to play your first game and make a first impression.
That’s the odd situation Max Pacioretty finds himself in, although seeing the light at the end of the tunnel has certainly helped him as he’s been back on the ice lately while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon.
“It’s obviously not an orthodox way to be traded and get along with a group,” Pacioretty said the athlete. “Even so, I’m just so grateful that if my old team has to ditch me for Cap rank…. They talk about being happy when you join a good team – they were right.
“I’m on a really good team right now and in a really great place to live.”
The Hurricanes acquired Pacioretty on July 13, only to lose him to injury less than a month later. He underwent surgery on August 10th.
And it kind of made you wonder at the time, given that Pacioretty will be a full free agent on July 1st and that he probably won’t be playing again until February, would Pacioretty bother to take his family with him from Summerlin, Nevada, to relocate?
There was no hesitation.
“I’d always heard from family people how good Raleigh was to live with,” Pacioretty said. “It really is a special place. We liked it in a short time.”
Pacioretty rented a short-term home in Raleigh, and his wife and five children have made North Carolina their home.
For how long? Who knows. But for now it’s a fun adventure.
“I see that positively. I have five kids and so far they’ve been able to live in all sorts of different places,” Pacioretty said, citing time (both in-season and off-season) in Montreal, Connecticut, Florida, Vegas and now Raleigh.
The life of a professional athlete. Make the most of it, Pacioretty figures.
“My wife and I just said yesterday that we are so lucky to have had this experience,” said Pacioretty. “Especially when I’m hurt, the best part is that I’m always with my kids. What’s really cool about the Hurricanes is that it’s just so family oriented. Whether it’s Roddy (Brind’Amour) or Donnie (Waddell), they just encourage everyone to let their families be a part of everything. So I used to bring my kids to the games every now and then.
“You can see the good things in a lot of different places and I would say the kind of family atmosphere here in Raleigh is definitely a positive thing to play here.”
There was no way he was going to spend a year alone in Raleigh.
“I’d rather retire than be away from my family,” Pacioretty said. “This isn’t to say anything negative about hockey or my position, but my family is the most important thing in the world to me.”
His children have adapted well to youth hockey in Raleigh.
“Youth hockey has grown like crazy here and the kids are really trying,” he said. “The children are in an incredible school here. Really happy with the gains they made.”
Trading away from Vegas wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. Though the Golden Knights’ salary caps last season at least prepared him for the possibility.
“I mean, you’re never really prepared for that, even though there was an open line of communication during the process,” Pacioretty said. “I really enjoyed my time in Vegas, I will look back at the end of my career and say I only wish we could have won a trophy there. We had so many chances, so many great teams. We had a great coach who I thought we could win with.
“I’m still close to the guys on this team, I talk to them all the time. I wish them only the best. Unless they play against our team.”
And as Pacioretty said, it would have been a lot harder to get treated from Vegas if he had ended up on an uncompetitive team that only took Cap spot for an asset. Landing on top of a competitor like Carolina made a huge difference.
“It only helps that we’re a team that also wants to fight,” Pacioretty said. “And we have a bright future here.”
Everything happens for a reason, says Pacioretty, who sounds pretty zen when he takes a hard hit of injury.
“As you get older, you realize what’s the most important thing in life,” he said. “You know what, maybe you deal with a torn Achilles a little differently when you’re a little younger. But I’m just happy about where I’m at with myself and my family right now.”
Of course, all that’s left is to be back in the game uniform and helping out his new team.
“You’re missing out if you’re not in the lineup,” he said. “But it was really easy to connect with the guys off the ice. It’s no secret that this is a great group of guys. Similar to Vegas.”
Pacioretty is back on the ice, he’s been on the ice 7-8 times in the last two weeks. Exactly what that means for his schedule isn’t clear yet.
“It’s so hard to know. I’m quite a detail-oriented guy. I’ve actually reached out to pretty much everyone who’s torn an Achilles tendon and come back and played.”
He spoke to Panthers forward Anthony Duclair, who sustained the same injury last summer.
“He’s five and a half weeks ahead of me and I’m just trying to bounce him off,” Pacioretty said.
Pacioretty also shared that he had a different surgical technique than the other players who had the same injury.
“I actually had a minimally invasive technique that’s a bit newer and different,” he said.
The idea is that there is less scar tissue with this particular procedure. Which may or may not result in a faster healing process.
“Everyone says it’s a fourth to six month recovery,” Pacioretty said. “Two months is a big difference.”
But he also wants to make sure he doesn’t push it too far and come back too fast. He wants to be fully healed before returning. Sometimes he’s his own worst enemy because he wants to come back too soon.
Pacioretty said it was great dealing with the Hurricanes coaches and he warned them that maybe he was trying to do too much too quickly and they had to keep him honest about it.
“It’s worked out really well so far,” he said. “And actually, I got bagged pretty good today when I skated with assistant coach JD (Jeff Daniels) for the first time. He’s done a pretty good job for us.
“I just feel very comfortable and happy where I am. Aside from that, there’s no point in doing anything stupid because a lot of the guys I’ve spoken to about coming back earlier, I think (JG) Pageau was one, he said maybe a few extra weeks would have been better and has helped you push your toe off a little more.
So Pacioretty is focused on being fully ready for the rest of the season and the playoffs when he returns and not looking back.
The way the Canes see it, Pacioretty will be an internal trade deadline addition, it’s not every day you add a six-time 30-goal scorer.
Pacioretty can’t wait to make his debut and create chemistry with his new linemates.
“You see sometimes guys have a hard time getting into a new team, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, that’s another reason why I want to do whatever it takes to get as many games as possible to do to make sure I gel right away,” he said.
Adjusting means working as hard as possible because that’s the work ethic he’s seen since training camp with his new team.
“I’ve never been on a team where guys train so hard, where guys skate so hard,” said Pacioretty. “The camp was just amazing. Everyone knows who this starts with, right?”
Head coach Rod Brind’Amour was a fitness freak as a player, and that standard sticks with him and sets the tone for the Hurricanes as a team.
“It’s really cool,” Pacioretty said. “It’s almost a bit intimidating at first. I say, ‘These guys are really dialed in.’ And I’m a guy who prides himself on being fit and in shape throughout his career, but I’ve never seen a whole team of guys like this.
“We have some big beasts on our team. I have to make sure I can match them when I come back.”
(Top Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)