It wasn't a clear-cut decision at first, but banged-up Lynx center Dean Tiltgen knows rushing himself back into the lineup during the team's latest road trip was the right move after all.
After sitting out last Thursday's 6-5 loss at Baton Rouge with a pulled groin muscle, the 25-year-old Tiltgen glanced at the standings and then looked in the mirror.
"It was one of those decisions that was risky, because my concern was if I play and it makes it worse, all of a sudden a week injury turns into a two- or three-month injury," said Tiltgen, who came up lame during the team's morning skate in Baton Rouge.
"I was in a lot of pain those two nights and I definitely didn't have the speed or acceleration I normally have, which is a huge part of my game. But I felt with the way things were going, I had to be out there on the ice. I felt this team needed me out there."
Following intensive treatment with trainer Brian Patafie, Tiltgen made the return to action in Friday night's 4-2 loss in Birmingham. Not only did he see significant ice time, he also found himself on the scoresheet, scoring his first goal as a Lynx late in the first period.
The next night, with the team's winless streak at four following the loss to the Bulls, Tiltgen played an even bigger role, scoring a pair of goals, including an empty-netter to seal a 5-2 road win over Tallahassee.
While it would be difficult for Tiltgen to question his judgment after scoring three goals in a pair of games he would have been better off watching from the press box, the goals were an afterthought.
"We were struggling and needed everyone out there working hard to try and get us back on track," said Tiltgen, who had 30 goals and 39 assists in 69 games for the Arkansas Glacier Cats of the Western Professional Hockey League last season.
"I got lucky. I was able to contribute, and the groin didn't get worse. Things turned out all right."
In the wake of Monday's trade by the New Jersey Devils that sent Lynx leading scorer Wes Mason to the Atlanta Thrashers, there is even more of an onus now on Tiltgen to produce. And while coach Dan Wiebe says Tiltgen's impact last weekend is an example of why he signed him to replace departed leading scorers Darren Colbourne and Bob Berg, he adds that the contributions can't end there.
"I was very impressed with what Dean did for us, showing his willingness to play through an injury, but it's only two games," said Wiebe as the Lynx (2-4-1) gear up for Saturday's showdown on the road vs. the expansion Greensboro Generals.
"It's not at all a shock that he'd score three goals in two games for us because that's why he's here. That's what I expect from Dean every night. He has to be one of our go-to guys."