winger took more positive strides toward a potential lineup return Wednesday when he participated in the team's optional practice at Giant Center.Garrett MitchellHERSHEY BEARS
Mitchell wore a non-contact jersey, but he skated drills, took shots and received passes. It was another encouraging step in what has been a remarkable comeback from shoulder surgery.
It feels really good, Mitchell said. Honestly, I kind of surprise myself. Every day it feels a little bit better. It's just a process every day.
I'm not going to lie to you. I'm not going to play this weekend. But my goal is that the boys can solidify, in the next two weeks here, a spot in the playoffs. I'm hoping to come in and be able to contribute.
Mitchell on his right shoulder on Dec. 12 to repair a torn labrum and a fracture. The procedure typically requires a six-month recovery time, but the 22-year-old is not a typical patient.
Mitchell's arm was in a sling for six weeks after the operation. Since then, he has been zealously working on his rehabilitation in conjunction with Bears team physical therapists Bob Kelly and John Wawrzyniak at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
It's funny, Mitchell said. I know almost all the people in there by name. The cleaning staff, I know everybody. I spent some serious hours in there.
At the same time, I think it's really helped me out. I was told six months and we're coming up on four here. I feel great. I'm not going to tell you that I'm 100 percent, but I definitely feel really good.
The Bears have six games remaining in the regular season, which concludes when the Adirondack Phantoms visit Giant Center on April 19.
For them, the biggest thing is to see me ready, to see that I can contribute, Mitchell said. There's no point in me going out and not contributing and having the potential to hurt myself further. I feel great. I'm just hoping that in the near future I can get in a uniform again.
Might a return before the end of the regular season be possible if the current rate of progress continues?
I don't know, Bears head coach Mike Haviland said. I'm getting hopeful every day because we get more and more. He feels real good. We'll see. I don't know. I wish I had an answer there for that one.
I've got to tell you, he's come a long way. He's really progressed in his rehab. He's a worker. That helps, too, if you're a worker and you work at it.
Third-year pro Mitchell produced a career-best 15-15-30, with 94 penalty minutes, in 2012-13. Trying to play through his shoulder injury before it was diagnosed, he produced 0-2-2 in 17 games this season.
A return by the fiery and physical Mitchell, named an alternate captain at the start of the season, would provide a major lift for the Bears.
I think it would be like getting a trade, Haviland said. All of a sudden, you get a shot in the arm from a guy who's played, who understands what the battles are and the energy level he plays with and what he means to that team in that room. He's a big part of it.
I think it would be huge, because for me he's a playoff guy. He can be a real good playoff guy and I think that would be a huge boost for us.
Reading Royals defenseman Michal Cajkovsky, who is under contract with Hershey this season, was named to the ECHL's All-Rookie Team.
Goalie Joni Ortio (Abbotsford), defensemen Brenden Kichton (St. John's) and Ryan Sproul (Grand Rapids) and forwards Curtis McKenzie (Texas), Teemu Pulkkinen (Grand Rapids) and Ryan Strome (Bridgeport) were named to the AHL's All-Rookie Team.
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