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Thang heals quickly, returns in time for?tournament run

Dan Murphy | Friday, March 20, 2009

The hit was ugly.

Midway through the third period of Notre Dame’s Feb. 6 game at Ohio State, Irish junior Ryan Thang went down. Thang was racing an Ohio State defender to a loose puck along the boards in his defensive zone, and when he got there, Thang’s skate got caught and his knee bent inward with all of 192 pounds on top of it.

“I really should’ve wrecked my knee,” Thang said. “I guess somehow I have strong ligaments so I was lucky.”

Instead, Thang was diagnosed with a severe high ankle sprain. A week and a half later the Notre Dame training staff noticed something wasn’t quite right.

His left tibia, or shin bone, had slid forwards and up underneath the knee and was pushing outwards on his knee cap. Because it had been over a week since the injury, the muscles around Thang’s knee had started to compensate and had a strong hold on the misplaced bone.

“It wasn’t fun,” Thang said. “For about a week straight we really had to fidget with it.”

Fidgeting with it involved a team of trainers manually pushing the bone back into place. Each day the bone would slip back and they would repeat the process. Thang considered himself lucky.

“A knee injury would have kept me out until next season. So I’ve got to give credit to our strength coach,” he said.

Five weeks after the hit, Thang was back on the ice for the CCHA playoffs and a second-round matchup against Nebraska-Omaha over the weekend.

It took the junior from Edina, Minn., less than a period to get back into the swing of things.

With three minutes remaining in the opening stanza, Thang ripped one of his trademark wrist shots past Mavericks goalie Jerad Kaufmann to give Notre Dame a 4-0 lead.

“He always has the potential to score that goal that wins you a game,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “He had a ton of key goals in the playoffs last year.”

Thang had two key goals to go along with his five assists during Notre Dame’s run to the national title game last spring. He helped spark a 7-3 win over New Hampshire and added a clutch shorthanded goal in the 5-4 overtime upset of Michigan in the semifinals.

Thang had 38 goals through his first two years with the Irish, and 11 of them were game winners. He missed seven games with the injury this season but still managed to rack up 10 goals.

Despite picking up the early goal in his return last Friday, Thang looked a step slow throughout the weekend. Jackson said that his alternate captain just needed to get himself back into game shape after a few weeks off, but Thang admitted the leg wasn’t quite at full strength.

“It’s still not where I want it to be, but it’s playoff time and you can play through just about anything,” Thang said. “Once you get out in the game, you don’t really notice it as much.”

Thang said that he didn’t think he would be quite ready to go yet if there wasn’t a conference title on the line.

“Every day I get a little bit faster. It’s just going to take some time. At first I had to get a feel for it, but once you’re going you’re going,” he said.

Jackson said that in Saturday night’s 1-0 win, Thang and his linemates looked a little out of sync as Thang worked himself back into the mix.

“That line before he was hurt had been playing extremely well,” Jackson said. “It will take a little time for them to get used to each other again.”

Whatever Thang is missing for the time being on the ice, he makes up for in the locker room. He has emerged as one of the vocal leaders of the team this season and is a big asset off of the ice.

“He adds a sense of maturity and leadership to our locker room,” Jackson said. “There are positives on and off the ice with Ryan being back.”

Jackson gave the team a day off this Tuesday to keep them at the peak of their physical and mental game. Thang said that the break left him feeling fresh and ready to go for this weekend’s games.