The eight weeks approximated for Greger Hanson’s rehabilitation after he suffered a torn groin in early February put him in line to rejoin the Thunder just as the Central Hockey League playoffs were beginning.
What wasn’t certain was how Hanson, a rookie forward from Sweden, would play upon returning from a major injury.
If the first round of the postseason is any indication, Hanson has suffered little or no dropoff. He scored three goals and notched three assists for Wichita as it rolled to a four-game sweep of Arizona in the opening round.
Hanson’s return further deepens the Thunder’s scoring options. Before he was injured, Hanson had 44 points in 44 games. It’s a number he stayed stuck on after missing the final 22 games of the regular season.
"It was definitely tough to get injured at that point," the 25-year-old Hanson said. "I was doing really well and the team was doing well, as well. It was tough to get injured, but I played most of the season and I’m back for playoffs, which is the most important part of the year. I’m happy to be playing when it counts the most."
Hanson isn’t exactly sure how he got injured at Tulsa on Feb. 2 in a no-contact play. However it happened, it couldn’t have occurred at a worse time. The Thunder had re-acquired Matt Robinson from the ECHL three weeks earlier, and his addition bolstered an already strong group of Thunder forwards.
By the time Hanson got hurt, that group was depleted. Todd Griffith and Les Reaney were already on injured reserve, and Wichita’s depth and balance was the only thing keeping the Thunder stable.
Wichita weathered that period of uncertainty and is back to an essentially healthy roster for the playoffs, where depth has once again served it well. Reaney matched Hanson’s three goals in the first round and seven other players scored multiple points.
"We’re a really deep team," Hanson said. "In playoffs, you kind of see guys who maybe haven’t been scoring much during the year step up. It’s always like that, and it’s very rewarding to see guys who may have been a little quiet lately come up big in big games."
If Hanson’s production hasn’t been unexpected, it’s probably because it was unclear what to expect. The Thunder played well without him, and he was returning to a healthy roster with seven other players who scored at least 40 point.
Hanson has put to rest any uncertainties, reclaiming his role as one of the Thunder’s most skilled players and one of its most aggressive.
"That’s just the way I play," Hanson said. "I’ve never been the kind of player who tries to half-play it out there. I try to go 100 percent. Once you’re out there, even though you might be hurting a little bit but you don’t really think about it. First of all it’s so much fun and also there’s so much at stake, so you don’t really think about pain during those games."
Hanson’s immediate success is likely due to the fact that Wichita, without him, didn’t possess an abundance of speed. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Hanson provides that element as one of the Thunder’s best options on breakaways and 2-on-1 opportunities.
Hanson, even though he wanted to return earlier, is showing that the eight weeks he spent preparing for the playoffs and working to rehabilitate were put to good use.
"You don’t really understand how much you miss it until you’re injured," Hanson said. "You kind of take it for granted, so it’s great to be back and be with the team again, just going on road trips and all that. I’m very happy to be back."