Robbinsdale Armstrong senior Matt Crandall cracks a smile during practice on Dec. 16 at the Plymouth Ice Center. Photo by Nick Clark, Sun Newspapers
Just as the puck hit the back of the North Metro goal, Matt Crandall felt the gratification.
Crandall, a Robbinsdale Armstrong senior, had spent nearly all of the previous 14 months rehabilitating back-to-back breaks to the same bone in his right leg.
That included a three-month stay in a wheelchair after the initial break in September of 2010 he suffered while playing pick-up football.
It included the jubilation of returning to the Armstrong junior varsity boys hockey lineup by the following January, where he racked up 10 points in a little more than three games.
It included another break, this time after a North Metro junior varsity defender fell and slid into his legs, snapping the bone again in the same spot.
It included being forced to watch as his buddies played American Legion baseball season last summer.
And it included his triumphant return to the ice on Dec. 8, where in the varsity game against the same program he last faced, Crandall scored a first-period goal and assisted on two others in a 4-1 Armstrong victory – the Falcons’ first of the year.
Oh, what a feeling …
“To be honest, I can’t really explain it,” Crandall said last week. “It felt really good to get it off my chest, just to get one. It takes away all the nerves for the rest of the season, and to have it against that team, it was pretty unique.”
Crandall said he wasn’t entirely positive how he’d react when the puck dropped that night.
He believed his body was ready. The practice time and the tryout process took care of that. His mind, however, was another matter.
His stomach told him that much.
“When I came to the rink, I was thinking about it a lot,” Crandall said. “When I was getting ready, I went out and watched the JV game and just seeing [the North Metro] uniform got my stomach upset. It was weird, but it bothered me. It made me angry. I felt like I wanted some revenge.”
He got it on the scoreboard, giving the Falcons a 1-0 advantage 10 minutes, 25 seconds into the first and assisting on Tommy Wood’s goal with 6:51 to play in the second that gave Armstrong a 2-1 lead.
Crandall also helped set up an empty-net goal from Cole Goergen in the final two minutes, rolling with a line that Armstrong coach Todd Weisjahn said has been his most productive thus far.
“They’ve been going pretty good,” Weisjahn said. “And it helps having Matt back out there. He’s got hockey sense. That is something that is really a positive that he brings to this team. He makes things happen out there.”
The Falcons need that to continue as they conclude their toughest week this winter. After losing 9-2 to No. 2-ranked Minnetonka on Tuesday, Dec. 20, they travel to No. 3 Maple Grove for a 7 p.m. face-off on Thursday, Dec. 22.
The Falcons say they know what they are up against – another deep, strong, fast and talented team.
“Maybe the best there is,” Weisjahn said. “I just don’t think, at least right now, you are going to play a better team than Minnetonka or Maple Grove. Both are extremely good. We should find out a lot about ourselves.”
Win or lose, Crandall said there is plenty to be gained, the most important of which could be something the Falcons can ride for the next two-plus months.
“The games are going to be at such a fast pace that it will set our pace for the rest of the season,” Crandall said. “We’ll see how fast we need to play.”
For the record, Crandall is glad to just be hanging with his own guys again. Off the ice, he never left last year, noting that being with the team helped ease his mind.
But there is nothing like playing, and regardless of how this week – or the rest of the season, for that matter – plays out, he wants to enjoy being back on the ice.
“When you don’t get to play, it’s really hard,” Crandall said. “All I wanted to do was make sure I got to play my senior season.”