After a breakout 2009-10 season, the last thing Jeff Schultz anticipated dealing with this summer was a serious illness. But upon returning home to Calgary in May, Schultz was diagnosed with mononucleosis.
The big, 24-year-old defenseman was bed ridden for roughly four weeks and lost about 25 pounds, but following a workout at Kettler Capitals Iceplex Wednesday, Schultz said he's healthy and ready for the rapidly approaching new season.
"You hear about mono but you don't realize how much energy it takes out of you, how bad you feel and how you're pretty much stuck to your bed the whole time," Schultz said. "I hate to say it, but of all times, it was probably a good time to have it. Earlier it would have been during the playoffs and later it'd be during camp. I've had enough time to work out and do stuff that it feels like I'm back where I should be."
Schultz noticed a sore throat and had puffy eyelids when he flew back to Calgary, where he was initially diagnosed with strep throat. When his condition worsened, Schultz saw another doctor who identified the ailment as mononucleosis.
"About the end of the second week, I was so far behind it that I had to go to an urgent care clinic for fluids and antibiotics through an IV," Schultz said. "I went back for three days, twice a day for more fluids and antibiotics, that's how far behind and dehydrated I was. It was about five weeks before I got back into the gym and even then I had to take it easy."
Knowing he couldn't afford a relapse, Schultz took his initial workouts slowly and started to regain the weight he lost by forcing himself to eat as much as he could despite his lack of appetite. So far the strategy appears to have worked, because on the ice this morning, the 6-6, 230-pound Schultz showed no lingering effects of the illness.
With mono behind him, Schultz is looking forward to helping the Capitals take another step forward this season. He signed a four-year deal worth $11 million this summer that secured his future in Washington following his confidence-boosting performance from a year ago that saw him post a career-high 23 points and league-best plus-50 rating.
"I never wanted to leave here," Schultz said. "We're so close to getting over that hump and showing everybody we are an elite team. It's something I want to be a part of. Each year it seems like guys are picking up on smaller things that will continue to help us. It's just a matter of time that once we put it all together things will start working out for us."
A sour taste still lingers from last spring's first-round loss to Montreal for Schultz, who can't pinpoint what went wrong for the Capitals but believes all the team can do is move forward.
(There was no escaping talk of Montreal for Schultz either, as his younger brother Ian was traded to the Canadiens this summer from St. Louis for goaltender Jaroslav Halak.)
Part of that forward progression this year will include the Capitals entering training camp prepared to rely on a rather young group of defensemen. At 24 years old, Schultz and Mike Green are already mainstays along the blueline, and with Karl Alzner (21) and John Carlson (20) penciled in to be regulars this season, Washington could have four defensemen under the age of 25 logging significant ice time.
"I was in the same position a few seasons ago as those younger guys are now," Schultz said. "We have a good variety of defensive and offensive guys and I think things will work well. They've done so well down in Hershey that they should be allowed to get some playing time up here and have a shot at staying here. ... Right now I feel like the group we have will be here for a long time."
*If you missed it, you can now request a seat for the Capitals' rookie game against the Flyers rookies at 3:30 p.m. Sept. 16 at KCI on the team's website.
*Also, a belated farewell to CSN's Lisa Hillary, who moves on to cover the Flyers for CSN Philadelphia. If you haven't already, check out her "greatest hits" here.