POTSDAM A little more than a year ago, Clarkson University defenseman Kevin Tansey took his first step in returning to hockey after suffering an assault late in the summer of 2012.
Tansey, a sophomore, missed the entire season while recovering from the attack, but was able to return to non-contact drills in practice on Dec. 27, 2012.
Coming back felt unbelievable, Tansey said. It was hard to hold back tears. When I got on the ice everybody started tapping their sticks. Being here really feels like a second home.
The Hammond, Ontario, native has played in all 22 games for Clarkson this season and has already surpassed his scoring total from his freshman year with one goal and nine assists. A physical defenseman, Tansey produced two goals with seven assists in the 2011-12 season for the Golden Knights.
Whenever you take a year off, youre going to start a little slowly, Tansey said. I dont think Im quite up to par yet. Im just trying to work hard every game to try to get better.
Clarkson (13-7-2 overall, 6-2-0 ECAC Hockey) is better this season than it was a year ago and Tansey is one of the reasons for the teams improvement. His value is more than just making defensive stops or laying a hard hit on an opposing forward along the boards.
Hes a tremendous teammate, Clarkson coach Casey Jones said. The guys rally around him. He wanted to say a part of it (last year). It was important to him. He missed hockey so much it was important to him to just stay active with it. It kept him pushing ahead.
Kevins a lunch-pail guy, Jones added. He comes to work every day to improve and get better. He was someone that was sorely missed in the lineup last year because of his competitive spirit and the way he approaches the game. Hes getting better and more and more situated with getting back. Its a testament to him how hard he worked to get back in a situation where hes playing regularly.
Tanseys family has embraced the Clarkson hockey experience. His parents, Mike and Joanne, attend nearly every game, and Mike takes photographs from home and away games for the university.
Tansey also has the distinction of being part of two different classes. He came in with this years juniors, but is sophomore-eligible because he missed last season. Tansey actually was not supposed to arrive at Clarkson until last season, but he was able to come in a year early when Mark Borowiecki opted to leave after his junior season to play professional hockey.
Probably the sophomore class, Tansey said, when asked what group he most identifies with now. Ive accepted Im graduating in 2016 now. I live with the sophomores, but we are a pretty tight-knit team. I dont think theres a huge difference class-to-class.
JOE ZARBO RETURNS
Junior Joe Zarbo, one of Clarksons top offensive players, missed two of the last three games while recovering from an illness.
Zarbo, who has five goals and seven assists in 19 games, missed Clarksons final game of a two-game set at UMass-Lowell on Jan. 4, and then missed last Fridays home game against Merrimack, before returning Saturday night.
My energy level wasnt quite there yet (Saturday), Zarbo said. I felt a lot better than the previous week. I had to get it out of my system. My energy was struggling all (last) week in practice. I missed a few days of practice because of it. I think Im pretty much 100 percent now.
A LOOK AHEAD
Clarkson will play its first ECAC Hockey games in more than a month this weekend as defending national champion Yale (8-3-4, 3-2-3) and Brown (6-6-3, 3-4-1) visit Cheel Arena.
The last conference game for the Golden Knights was a 4-3 win over St. Lawrence University in Appleton Arena on Dec. 7.
They are two great teams coming in our barn for this weekend, Clarkson captain Ben Sexton said. Yale is the defending national champion for a reason. Brown is hot lately too. We have to be ready this weekend.
Clarkson opened conference play with road games against these teams, knocking off Brown 4-3 on Nov. 1 and then falling 6-3 at Yale the following night.
Both (teams) compete really hard, Jones said. Yales got tremendous depth. They have a lot of really good experience in learning to win important games. They are playing well. They transition real well. They get pucks to the net and they crash and bang. Brown competes at a high level. They have a tremendous first line and they were real difficult for us to handle down at Brown. Both these programs here are playing real well right now.
Sportswriter Cap Carey covers Clarkson University hockey for the Times. He can be reached at email@example.com