Devin Shore celebrates a goal before his injury. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Devin Shore vividly remembers the hit that ended his season.
He catches a pass from Stephen Johns in the neutral zone, carries it up the left wing, and chips it into the offensive zone just before gaining the blue line.
Then everything goes south.
As Shore makes the chip, Charlotte Checkers defenseman Ryan Murphy drops his hip and derrière, forming a wall right in front of the Charlotte bench. Shore is in stride at full speed and takes a half leap to get out of the way, but it’s too late.
“I saw the back of his jersey and his number at my feet,” Shore said. “There was nothing else I could do.”
Shore lands hard on his right shoulder, and right away he knows it isn’t good. The Cedar Park Center crowd let’s out an “oooohhhh” while the 21-year-old is writhing in pain, his legs kick in a combination of frustration and pain, while in his head he knows his rookie season is over.
“I’ve hurt this shoulder before back at Maine, but this wasn’t anything I’ve experienced before,” Shore said. “I didn’t know for sure it would be surgery, but that definitely popped right into my mind.”
The check was unpenalized at the time, but later earned Murphy a three-game suspension for clipping. The incident brought a catastrophic end to one of the most promising individual seasons in Texas’ franchise history.
No rookie, or player for that matter, in the AHL was having a better season than Shore before he was cut down by Murphy.
Devin Shore leaves the ice with an upper-body injury after a hit by Ryan Murphy. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
On opening night he scored the game-winning overtime goal against the San Antonio Rampage on a Peter Forsberg-esque breakaway move, setting off a campaign that earned him AHL Player of the Month honors in October with 11 points and eight goals in nine games.
That showing led to Shore’s first NHL call-up and he made his Dallas Stars debut on Nov. 3 and appeared in three games with the NHL club. It was a taste that built Shore’s confidence and he returned to the AHL by piecing together a modest six-game goal streak and 10-game point streak.
But that point-streak, which finished tied for the fifth-best in the AHL, came to an end with Shore’s season early in the third period of a 5-4 loss on Dec. 11.
“It was really hard mentally,” Shore said. “If you ask my teammates, I’m always the guy smiling. But this definitely weighed on me.”
But he found positives in the situation.
He had a strong start to the season and got his first NHL opportunity. Plus, this was the shoulder he had injured in the past, so why not get it re-built and come back stronger?
In addition it gave him an opportunity to watch more hockey and “learn from above,” while he looked at the example Radek Faksa set last season — who suffered a similar shoulder injury — as a model for recovery and proof he could come back even stronger.
Shore also continued to work on his degree from the University of Maine, adding two more classes for the spring semester, and is hoping to finish his degree by “this time next year.”
It’s a combination of patience and hard work that Shore is hoping turns into a Faksa-like return next season.
Devin Shore said he’s taking the positives from this season. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
He was effectively grounded for two weeks after undergoing the surgery in Dallas, but started riding the stationary bike and doing physical therapy as soon as the doctor allowed. He slowly added exercises throughout his rehab and week-by-week, he felt the progress.
“The shoulder feels great, really great actually,” Shore said on Thursday, talking via phone while visiting his soon-to-graduate friends at Maine. “It’s still tight and healing, but as far as the joints go, it feels really stable.”
Shore says he feels 100 percent in every day life, while he’s already started skating. He’s not cleared to shoot a puck yet, hopefully by June 1, but simply being on the ice has further invigorated his rehab process and mental health.
“I’ve never gone so long without skating,” he said. “Just your blades gripping into the ice, finally feeling the wind on your face. I know this sounds cheesy, but just being alone on the ice by myself felt amazing.”
Right now Shore’s on-ice activities are limited to skating and light stick handling. He’s skating twice and working out off-ice five days a week back home in Ajax, Ontario. He’s also been stick handling with a ball off the ice, which he said is “very therapeutic.”
It’s not set in stone, but Shore is hoping to be cleared for full-contact practice in time for Dallas’ development camp in July.
That would be the next step toward a strong return for the 2016-17 season. Shore is aware he’s a long-shot to make the NHL roster, coming off a season-ending injury will do that to you, but he’s dedicated to the process and has taken notes from the 2015-16 season.
When he was in Dallas, both as a call-up and a surgery patient, he soaked up everything he could about the NHL game. He talked to Faksa about coming off a shoulder injury, watched Dallas’ veteran leaders and really examined what it takes to make the jump to the NHL.
“It’s a big jump, but I learned I can play there and not be overwhelmed,” Shore said. “That’s what the taste (of the NHL) did for me.”
His lessons in the AHL were just as valuable as he learned how to be a pro. And Shore credits Texas veteran Greg Rallo with helping his growth as a person.
Before his injury Rallo and Shore roomed together on road trips. Before and after the injury he was often at Rallo’s house and the two became “as close as a 21-year-old and 34-year-old can be.”
“He just made sure everything is going well, on and off the ice,” Shore said. “Making sure you have finances in order, how to get a new drivers license, all those things you don’t really know about until you live on your own. You can’t buy that experience on a shelf, you have to experience it and he was awesome.”
Of course it wasn’t desired, but Shore now has his own life experience of dealing with a season-ending injury, and he says he’ll be better for it. He looks at this past season as success — even if it was incomplete — and thinks the number of goals he scored actually masked his other growth as a two-way forward.
“I think that had to do with confidence and some puck luck,” Shore said of the goal total. “If I had to label or title myself as a player, I would say I’m a two-way player with some offensive ability. I want to be confident with or without the puck in all three zones, and with that I can throw in little bit of goal scoring.”