Jordan Topping had been on skates and shooting pucks for a month before he made his season debut Saturday against the Spokane Chiefs.
The Tri-City Americans overage forward missed the first 29 games of the WHL season with a severe high ankle sprain, suffered at the Dallas Stars camp in early September. But coach Mike Williamson wanted to make sure Topping was at 100 percent before letting him pull on his jersey on game day.
“He worked extremely hard to get back,” Williamson said. “He was frustrated for a long time because he didn’t want to miss as much as he did. I think Zach (Fournier, athletic therapist) did a great job, as did our physicians and everyone that was working with him to make sure we weren’t putting him out there too early. That was our biggest fear. When we did put him out, he was ready to go.
“He had a few weeks of practice in and a little more contact every day, and got to the point where we felt he was ready. He didn’t play as many minutes as he probably will moving forward. We eased him into the lineup, and he obviously had a huge impact on the game.”
Topping finished with one goal and two assists in the Americans’ 6-5 victory Saturday.
“It’s nice to be able to come back like that, and lucky enough to get bounces go my way,” Topping said. “Coming back at this point of the season, right before break, I want to help the guys achieve their goals and have success.”
Topping played on several different lines Saturday, and there is no set plan at this point as to where he’ll end up.
“That will sort itself out the more games I play,” Topping said. “It’s about getting out there and finding a groove.”
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Topping, a native of Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, was Tri-City’s top returning scorer from last season with 32 goals and 34 assists. He received an invite to attend the Dallas Stars camp, and everything went well ... for the most part.
“It was pretty incredible to go to a camp like that,” Topping said. “But things like this happen. That’s part of the sport — you just have to roll with the punches.”
That’s all fine and dandy, unless you had him penciled in the lineup every game and expected big things.
“Going into the season, before Jordan was hurt, we were planning on him being a big piece of our team: a leader, a top guy coming back in terms of offensive production,” Williamson said. “He brings a lot of experience. Our guys did a good job of finding ways to win games when we had guys out of the lineup, but it’s great to get him back. It’s kind of like making a big trade, and we added an impact guy to our lineup.”
Topping had a cast and used crutches for several weeks being he was able to start working toward his return.
“It’s tough to watch and not be out there with your team,” Topping said. “It was nice to see them win games.”
It was harder when the team went on the road and he was left behind.
“It can be lonely, but my billets (Ryan and Corie Kelly) have been pretty amazing through it all,” Topping said.”
Topping’s return comes at a crucial time.
The Americans (17-11-2-0, 36 points) play at U.S. Division-leading Everett (20-3-4-0, 44 points) on Wednesday, then host B.C. Division powers Kelowna and Victoria on Friday and Saturday.
“It’s a huge plus having him back,” Williamson said. “The division is extremely tight. We have seven tough games against good opponents to finish off the first half. We start with a teams that is up in first in Everett. Having Jordan back will help our chances.”