As he walked into the dressing room Sunday evening after the Augusta Lynx win over Baton Rouge, Lars Pettersen informed his teammates that was the last game he'd ever have to watch.
Before the words even left his mouth, his superstitions had taken over. He couldn't find a piece of wood to knock on fast enough.
"Just one of those years so far," Pettersen said. "It's been one thing after another, it seems."
Pettersen has been the poster boy for bad luck this season, having lost more than a month of the season (14 games) as the result of two fluke injuries. But the 24-year-old center also believes hard work overcomes hard luck any time, and he credits that belief for his quick return to the Lynx lineup just five weeks after he suffered a severe shoulder separation.
"I've been working hard, trying to get in shape to the level I want to be, and I'm pretty close," said Pettersen, who plays tonight for the first time since he was injured Nov. 4 at Florida.
He'll be back on the top line with wingers Louis Dumont and Scott Morrow as the Lynx travel to face the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks, then head to Florence, S.C., to face the Pee Dee Pride on Saturday.
"It's been tough sitting out the past month. I'm ready to get back in there and contribute, and start playing how I played toward the end of last season."
Pettersen has a long way to go to return to that level, when he finished tied for third in the ECHL in scoring with 93 points (30 goals-63 assists). Before the injury, the fourth-year pro's numbers were an abomination, at least by his standards - one goal and one assist in eight games.
With his team in last place in the Southeast Division at 9-11-2, Lynx coach Scott MacPherson points to the club's seven one-goal losses - five in regulation and two overtime defeats - and imagines how many of those losses would be wins with a healthy Pettersen.
"You put Lars out there, and he's good for a point a night," MacPherson said. "He could have made a world of difference in those close games."
Dumont agrees that Pettersen has been one of the missing pieces to the puzzle.
"You know Lars is going to put up big numbers eventually," said Dumont, whose 25 points are tied with Jonas Soling for the club lead. "I think he can make a big difference on our team."
Bad breaks certainly had something to do with his slow start. Pettersen already has weathered a season's worth of hit posts, broken sticks, and hot goalies.
Then came the game Oct. 28 at South Carolina in which he was momentarily paralyzed below the waist after he was checked from behind into the end boards. A week later, Pettersen made a miraculous comeback, but was again bounced from the lineup in Florida because of injury.
Even life off the ice proved eventful.
During his 30-day stint on injured reserve, the Lynx traded away his best friend on the team, Chris Thompson, which led to a mini-feud with management and rumors that a disgruntled Pettersen had demanded a trade himself.
As if subpar offensive numbers and the club's losing record weren't enough incentive to make a speedy recovery, Pettersen found himself even more anxious to return so that he could escape all the distractions off the ice.
"It's been like a soap opera around here," Pettersen said. "The team went through a lot of growing pains the first couple months of the season, but we're on a roll now with three (wins) out of our last four."
Pettersen also wants to put any lingering rumors to bed.
"I never demanded a trade, but that's the rumor that's been going around," said Pettersen, who has been with the organization since the final year as the Raleigh IceCaps in 1997-98. "I don't want to play anywhere but here. I've been here a long time, and I'm not ready to move on unless I'm moving up to a higher league. I like the organization, the fans, and I love the city."
While Pettersen said the trade that sent Thompson and goalie J.R. Prestifilippo to Greensboro for goalie Erasmo Saltarelli has been difficult to accept, he also says it is time to move forward.
"It's done with now," said Pettersen, who along with Jonas Soling shared an apartment with Thompson and Prestifilippo. "We're moving on. Chris and J.R. are getting on with their careers, and Saltarelli is a good guy and a good goalie. He's going to help us in the long run."
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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