It has been a trying season for the Canes’ Jiri Tlusty, one of personal and professional setbacks.
The winger was injured in preseason. Once back in the lineup, he was moved off the top line when his productivity slipped. More recently, he failed to be chosen for the Czech Republic Olympic team for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
Just before Christmas, Tlusty learned a pain in his lower right side wasn't a muscle pull or hockey injury. It was his appendix, which had to be removed.
Tlusty has not played since Dec. 23 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, missing eight games as he regained strength. He was activated Monday off injured reserve and will play as the Canes face the Calgary Flames at PNC Arena.
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"It's been feeling way better and I've been able to work hard," Tlusty said. "No player likes to be hurt and have to sit and watch games. They want to play and be part of it. I'm excited to be back and will bring my 'A' game.'
After scoring a career-high 23 goals last season, tying for fifth in the NHL, Tlusty went into this season with big hopes. His line, with center Eric Staal and winger Alex Semin, was one of the league's best last year. A restricted free agent after this season, he was in position to earn a big contract with a big year.
As for the Olympics, there were no guarantees. Tlusty believed he could play his way on to his country's national team and make his first Olympic appearance, but it was not to be.
"I think we have a good team and they put it together right," he said. "I think they will battle for a medal and I will cheer for those guys. I'm definitely disappointed I cannot be a part of the team but I'm still going to root for those guys because I have a lot of friends on the team.
"Everyone wanted to be on the team, but when I had my surgery it didn't help me at all. And the start of the season wasn't good, so I can't be surprised by not making it. The others deserved to be on that team."
Tlusty's parents had traveled from the Czech Republic before Christmas to see some games and to spend the three-day holiday break with their son. Talk about a timely visit. They were a needed support group when the appendectomy was needed and performed Christmas Eve at Rex Hospital.
"Luckily we caught it at the right time," Tlusty said. "It didn't rupture. It was basic surgery."
The first five days after the procedure were very painful, Tlusty said. He also was slow to get back to skating.
"Athletes use that muscle they cut through and especially hockey players," he said. "It's in the core of the body. It's kind of the worst thing for athletes."
Tlusty, who has six goals and four assists in 37 games, was the left wing on the fourth line Monday. .Canes coach Kirk Muller said he has talked with Tlusty about focusing on a strong second half of the season, working hs way back up.
"I said, 'Listen, it's not the first half that you wanted but we believes in you,'" Muller said. "He understands it. He knows where he's at and knows there's room for improvement. Now he's just got to get playing again … Mentally, he's actually in a pretty good state right now."