Lohan eyes return from “worst-case scenario” knee injury

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By Alejandro Zúñiga, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 15, 2014

Kevin Lohan wants to play. And he wants to play now.

Sidelined since Nov. 1 with a torn lateral meniscus, the freshman defenseman has watched from the bench as the Michigan hockey team climbed the national rankings and then struggled through a four-game losing streak that will span nearly a month before the 13th-ranked Wolverines compete again.

But he won’t play next week when Michigan (2-2 Big Ten, 10-6-2 overall) continues its conference slate with a series against Michigan State. He may not even see the ice the week after that, when the Wolverines welcome No. 9 Wisconsin to Yost Ice Arena. According to Michigan coach Red Berenson, there’s no guarantee Lohan will ever regain the spot he held at the beginning of the season, which has since been supplanted to various degrees of success.

If Lohan had his way instead of Berenson or the team doctor, he’d dress for next Thursday’s game against the Spartans.

“I’ve gotta wait for the doctor,” Lohan said. “It’s not up to me at this point.”

Right now, Lohan says he’s at about 90 percent — while the recovery process has been long and arduous, he’s progressing well ahead of schedule. On Nov. 5, Berenson said the injury was a “worst-case scenario” and that it would take at least three months until the defenseman had a chance to play again.

“He’s doing really well,” Berenson said. “He’s pretty close to going all-out.”

And for a while, it was as difficult as Berenson predicted. Lohan watched practices from the bleachers behind the north end of the rink at Yost Ice Arena, his right leg immobilized. Nov. 15-16, the Wolverines struggled defensively and split a series at Nebraska-Omaha. The following week, he couldn’t participate in Michigan’s first-ever official Big Ten game.

“The hardest thing is watching,” Lohan said. “Especially on game day.”

When he went home in the evenings, roommate and freshman forward Tyler Motte cooked for him and helped him hobble around the dorm. When Lohan struggled with the stairs up to his West Quad room, upperclassman teammates let him sleep at their off-campus house.

Though devastating, the injury did have a bright spot. Because the meniscus tore completely and cleanly, the doctors were able to repair it in a way that will provide better long-term stability.

Fortunately for Lohan, the Wolverines were kept off the ice with a bye week in early December and given time off for finals and the holiday break. Before they face Michigan State next week, they’ll have played just four games in 41 days. Lohan hopes to return for the series against Wisconsin on Jan. 31, and if he does, he’ll be able to participate in the bulk of the Big Ten schedule and postseason play.

“I guess you could say I got lucky in when I got hurt,” he said. “If you were to get hurt, that was the time.”

On Dec. 25, Lohan finally made his return to the ice, participating in Michigan’s two practices that day for the Great Lakes Invitational. Though the team spent the day practicing, it felt like a Christmas present to him.

At 6-foot-5 and 200-plus pounds, Lohan is far from an agile skater, making his return to game form more difficult. Even though Lohan feels ready to compete, doctors are still keeping him from participating in some full-contact drills.

Wearing a white jersey in practice Wednesday, Lohan joined his teammates in board-to-board sprints. On one skate down the ice, the freshman finished last among a group of four teammates. Holding his stick behind his neck, he hunched over for breath, all with a smile.

“It feels really good to get back out there,” he said. “I’ve slowly been working my way up to the more intense activities.”