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Lightning center won't be sidelined by injury

With his career waning, Tim Taylor plans to play season with detached groin muscle.

By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 30, 2002

With his career waning, Tim Taylor plans to play season with detached groin muscle.

BRANDON -- In Tim Taylor's mind, he had no choice.

Never mind that he could barely skate. That blood seeping from his torn groin muscle was turning his leg black. That every painful stride did more damage.

He had to play.

Taylor's refusal to leave the lineup last season as long as the Lightning clung to the slimmest of playoff hopes resulted in an injury more severe than it had to be. But the team needed him. And with Taylor, the team comes first.

"We were in a situation where we were kind of in a playoff hunt, and we had no players coming up," said Taylor, a center on the Lightning's top checking line last season and a vital penalty killer. "I had to play, just had to do it. If it happened again I would do the exact same thing because that's where dedication and leadership come from. You do everything you can to help the hockey team win."

But at what cost?

Acquired in June 2001 to set an example for Tampa Bay's young players, Taylor is the consummate professional. But at 33, he doesn't have many seasons left. Now, those he does have will be played with a detached groin muscle.

"As it progressed, it got a lot worse and it exploded off the bone at the end," said Taylor, who was on injured reserve the final five games. "It got to point where it wasn't pulling from the same rip, it was coming from a different spot."

Under normal circumstances, Taylor would have gone to the sideline sooner. But the Lightning was riddled with injuries among forwards -- as many as five at a time were out -- and the organization was in breach of contract with minor-league affiliates for pulling up too many players. There was no one else.

To Taylor, it was obvious.

"Certainly, guys knew that he was not 100 percent, but that's the kind player he is," wing Ben Clymer said. "He's always going to play and do whatever he can to help the team no matter how he feels. That's something we not only appreciate, but respect as well."

Ideally, Taylor would have surgery to reattach the muscle to the bone, but recovery from such a procedure -- similar to one Taylor had two years ago to repair a torn abdominal muscle -- takes a year. Taylor doesn't have a year to lose.

Instead, he spent the summer in an intense training program to strengthen the muscles around the groin. He will try, essentially, to get by with a makeshift groin muscle and hope it holds.

Though there is little question Taylor would again play in pain, coach John Tortorella said the team cannot afford to put him on the ice in a limited capacity.

"He did a lot of good things for us to try to keep us afloat last year," Tortorella said. "I give him high marks for doing that, really. But what happened a lot last year is Tim would play a period and then have to get off the ice.

"We can't go into the start of the season losing a guy off the bench after half a game. If he's not 100 percent and not able to do everything you need to do in a 60-minute hockey game, then he's not going to play. It's not fair to anyone -- to him, his health, his career or the team."

When training camp opened two weeks ago, Taylor skated gingerly. But in time, he became more comfortable. Teammate Jimmie Olvestad said he sees no ill effects in Taylor's play.

"That's the way some people are, pushing their limits and testing their bodies," Olvestad said. "He's that kind of player. He works hard all the time and he doesn't complain."

The hardest part for Taylor is putting the injury out of his mind when he skates. But unless he does, he will not be effective.

"That's the biggest thing I'm working on right now is just forgetting about it on the ice and just playing," said Taylor, who had four goals and four assists last season. "Everyone has their own style of game, and I have to be a nagging type of player. So I have to forget about the injury and play hard."

In his mind, he has no choice.

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