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Leafs prospect Abruzzese on the mend following surgery, looks forward to next season

Maple Leafs prospect Nick Abruzzese played two seasons with the Chicago Steel of the USHL before moving on to Harvard University.
Maple Leafs prospect Nick Abruzzese played two seasons with the Chicago Steel of the USHL before moving on to Harvard University.

Nick Abruzzese was enduring through another week of recovery from hip surgery when the news came from the Ivy League on Nov. 12.

There wouldn’t be hockey in 2020-21 for the Harvard forward and Maple Leafs prospect, or his Crimson teammates, once he came all the way back from an operation to repair a torn labrum in his left hip.

The coronavirus pandemic caused the Ivy League to cancel winter sports, including hockey.

“We figured it was coming for a while, but it still stinks hearing it and having it come to fruition and not being able to go back and play this year,” Abruzzese said over the phone in an interview from his home in Slate Hill, N.Y.

“I would not have been able to play for a while anyway, but at the same time, not being at school, having guys scattered all over the place and not being in a centralized location even just to hear the news, it was tough.”

The 21-year-old Abruzzese, selected 124th overall by the Leafs in the 2019 National Hockey League draft, was looking to build off a fine freshman year at Harvard. Last season, Abruzzese was named the ECAC rookie of the year after recording 44 points in 31 games, and in doing so, thrust himself into the conversation involving the Leafs’ more intriguing prospects.

A lost season shouldn’t take Abruzzese out of that talk. Under normal circumstances, Abruzzese said he probably would have expected to return to Harvard’s lineup in March once recovery from his operation was complete.

“It’s something that was bothering me so it was a good time to get it done,” Abruzzese said of his hip issue. “I won’t be missing any games for school now so if there was ever a time to get it done, this was it.

“I’m just trying to focus on the recovery and trying to get back to being as healthy and as productive as I can be. HopefulIy, I can start skating in the near future and be able to start ramping things up soon.

“It’s all I can do at this point, is put my head down and go to work.”

Certainly, Abruzzese’s days are busy. Approximately 10 weeks after he had surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, Abruzzese, who spent the first month of rehab on crutches, is improving his range of motion in his leg and getting strength back through exercises.

The Leafs have stayed in touch, whether it’s senior director of player development Scott Pellerin or director of high performance Rich Rotenberg checking in.

A psychology major, Abruzzese is immersed in on-line courses and also enrolled in an extra class, knowing he would have more time for school without hockey.

“It has been good for me to focus on different things, to help me improve on time management and working in a different environment as well,” Abruzzese said.

Abruzzese hasn’t played in a game since March 7, Harvard’s last match before the remainder of the 2019-20 season was halted. That night, Abruzzese had three assists in a 7-1 Harvard playoff win against visiting St. Lawrence.

Abruzzese is optimistic about his eventual return, not only to playing in games but simply being with his teammates, and has no problem with taking a longer view.

“If we get a chance to get back on campus (at some point), I’m excited to get working with the team again,” Abruzzese said. “We have a lot of good players and I’m excited to see us probably have a bit of a chip on our shoulder having gone through what we’re going through right now.

“(Next season) is a long way away, but we’re going to get through this, not just Harvard hockey, but everyone in the world that is going through this right now.

“It’s not easy for everyone. We understand there is light at the end of the tunnel and that brighter days are ahead, hopefully sooner rather than later, but there will be better days for sure.”

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