In the early morning hours on Wednesday back in his native Sweden, a very interested fan tuned in to watch Lighting defenseman Victor Hedman's return to action.
Hedman had missed more than a month with a concussion. So his mother, Elisabeth, watched every minute of Tuesday night's overtime win against the Capitals, partly to watch her son play, but also to make sure he was OK.
"My mom was more afraid that I was going to take a hit, and I think she was more happy than me that I went through the game without any injury,'' Hedman said after practice Wednesday.
"She called me (Wednesday) morning and said that I looked good, so that was good. I know she watches all the games, but this game after me being out for so long she was a little nervous.''
Hedman took his share of hits on Tuesday, including a late knock into the end boards from Matt Hendricks, but felt no ill-effects – physical or mental.
"Whenever a player gets back to playing, the last thing you want is to have one thing that makes the player doubt,'' Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said. "So, for him to get through the game and get hit and have no doubt, that's gigantic, very, very, very important.''
It's also important for Tampa Bay to have a healthy Hedman back on the ice. The 6-foot-6, 230-pound defenseman brings size, mobility and passing while logging top-pairing minutes. In his first game since Dec. 27, Hedman played 18 minutes, 38 seconds, which is more than the coaching staff planned. Hedman, however, earned it with his play.
"He looked pretty good, and I was surprised because I didn't expect to play him that many minutes,'' said assistant coach Dan LaCroix, who handles defensive changes during games. "We wanted to play him only a certain amount, but he kept answering the bell, so we gave him some more, as much as he could chew.''
After such a promising return, Hedman no doubt will see more ice time tonight as Tampa Bay hosts the Winnipeg Jets looking to extend its winning streak to six games.
"I figured we would just sort of ease him back, but those top players have a tendency to surprise you pretty quick,'' Boucher said. "But he brings size. He's mobile and we need mobility. And what I like, and it's funny to say, is that he's evasive. With his size, his speed and his reach, he's able to get away from traffic and tough areas. That's something that you obviously miss when you don't have it and when you have it you recognize how important that is to your team.''
After making it through the first game back without incident – outside of maybe some heavy legs – Hedman is ready to resume his regular role on the blue line and help Tampa Bay make a push toward playoff contention.
"I felt pretty good, but I want to be able to build my game up to where I want it to be and this was a good step in the right direction,'' Hedman said. "I want to be out there in key situations, be out on the ice all the time and contribute.
"Every game is important, but these games down the stretch, this is where all the teams pick it up another notch. This is what I live for. This is what hockey players live for, to play in those key games.''