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Sound Tigers Stevens set to return from injury

February 1, 2019

BRIDGEPORT — Recovering from an offseason injury has cost John Stevens over half of his second pro season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

Finally ready to return, he’s trying to look for bright sides, and the excitement is building.

“It has kind of come fast,” Stevens said after Thursday’s practice. “When you’re going through a long recovery like that, you kind of push off the date for so long. But now it’s here.

“I’m trying to get mentally ready, geared up to compete every shift, especially early, get back in the flow, get my timing back and get comfortable in all the battles.”

Bridgeport has 30 games left, beginning with Friday night’s home game against Lehigh Valley at Webster Bank Arena. Stevens appears set to make his season debut after an offseason lower-body injury kept him out of the first 46.

Stevens, 24, who played college hockey at Northeastern, skated in Thursday’s practice on a line with Travis St. Denis and Tanner Fritz.

“It’s been a long time. He’s looked really good lately,” Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson said.

“Him coming in this weekend will give our team a boost. His hockey IQ, his defensive awareness, his strength, his body size, I’m really excited to have him back in the lineup.”

A season-opening upper-body injury cost Stevens a few weeks last season, but he came back to play the last 68 games as a rookie pro.

Being out so long this year, he said, gave him a chance to watch a lot of games and pick up bits and pieces he might not have noticed from the bench or the ice. It also let him develop some parts of his game.

“The biggest thing was just skating, every day, on the ice with Bernie” Cassell, the parent New York Islanders’ skill development coach, Stevens said.

“We were able to slow it down and focus on skating, which is hard to do when you’re playing and the season grinds. Puckhandling, shooting, all the little things, I tried to work on.”

There may be some early rust Friday, and if there is, Thompson said, they’ll cover Stevens as best they can. But if he looks good, Thompson said, he’ll play.

Injured forwards Matt Lorito (also awaiting his season debut) and Stephen Gionta practiced with the Sound Tigers on Thursday as well. Mike Sislo remained out.

mfornabaio@ctpost.com; @fornabaioctp; blog.ctnews.com/fornabaio

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