Capitals' Burridge cuts another challenge down to size

March 09, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

Randy Burridge refers to the double surgeries that reconstructed anterior cruciate ligament tears in both of his knees as "a little setback." What, one might wonder, would be considered major?

Burridge, who was having a career year for the Washington Capitals before he was injured last season, is all smiles at the Piney Orchard Ice Rink. He has just completed a full practice and stayed after for a 45-minute conditioning workout. He feels great. He has only a slight twinge in his right knee.

"Setbacks aren't forever," he says. "If you have confidence in yourself, you don't really waste too much energy thinking negative thoughts. That's my attitude. I'm the youngest of eight kids, and the size I am, you learn to think positive."

He is almost 5 feet 9 -- with his skates on. All his life he has heard he's too small to make it in professional hockey. No one came up and said that to his face -- "But the way they talk about your size, you know," he said. "It lights a fire inside."

All his life, he has tried to overcome. So what were two anterior cruciate ligament tears? Six months or so of rehab. Compared to a life-long effort, to Burridge, it did seem like a little thing.

He was leading the Capitals in scoring when the left knee ligament was partially torn during a game with Boston on March 1, 1992, and went out completely when he tried to come back during the playoffs. He had reconstructive surgery May 8.

His season stats included career highs for points (67), assists (44) and power-play goals (nine) -- despite missing 14 games with the injury.

His right knee, weakened by an injury two years earlier while playing for Boston, stressed while compensating for the newly injured left one, gave way when Burridge was walking down a hill during a golf outing last September. The right knee was operated on Sept. 17.

It could have been a scary time. But Burridge, 27, stayed focused.

He sat in on as many team meetings as he could. He went to his three-days-a-week, three-hour therapy sessions that included work with weights, step training and a biodex machine. He enjoyed his time at home with his wife, Jill, and their two daughters, Brittany-Rae, 3, and MacKenzie Samantha, 4 months. never lost sight of how much he wanted to get back to hockey.

"I didn't want to be away from the game," he said. "I went to all the home games and I spent a lot of time watching tapes of myself from last season. I watched my good plays. I think it really helped to be able to see myself, see what I could do and relate it to the work I've had to do to get back to playing.

"My confidence level was higher last season than it had ever been, because I was getting a certain amount of ice time. When your confidence level is up, you're willing to take the extra second to make the play."

Off the ice, he felt confident that if he took the time and worked hard, he could get back to the game within six months of the September operation. And that's where he is now.

"Just in the last three or four days, there has been a big difference in what he's able to do," Washington assistant coach John Perpich said last week. "Earlier, he was careful not to do too much too quick. Now he's doing more. Everything from skating to handling the puck at a higher tempo, approaching game tempo. It's obvious he's well on the way to working at game tempo."

Burridge is not on a precise timetable. But he does have an ideal scenario: He wants to be able to play before the end of the regular season so he can be ready to contribute in the playoffs.

Capitals tonight

Opponent: Toronto Maple Leafs

Where: Capital Centre, Landover

When: 7:40

TV: None

Radio: WMAL (630 AM)

Tickets available: 3,700

Outlook: The last time the Capitals had some time off, they responded with a seven-game winning streak. Hoping for a similar response, coach Terry Murray gave his team yesterday off. Toronto is 8-1-1 in its past 10 games, 10-1-1 in its past 12. The Leafs are led by Doug Gilmour, who has 102 points and is the NHL assist leader with 77; Dave Andreychuk, who has scored 13 goals in 14 games since coming over from Buffalo; and rookie G Felix Potvin, who leads the NHL in goals-against average (2.44) and save percentage (.911). The Capitals will be trying to break a five-game slump (0-4-1).

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