Hard Road for Torquato

WHEELING – Given the circumstances, Zack Torquato is just happy to be on the ice and healthy for the first time in roughly a year. With what the Wheeling Nailers forward has endured, that’s understandable.

A sixth-round draft pick (178th overall) of Detroit in 2007, Torquato has been through some tough times recently, and it prevented him from being in his place of solace – on the ice.

”It has been a little rough for me, but I try to stay positive,” Torquato said after practice Tuesday at WesBanco Arena. ”Last year’s injury was obviously a really fluky injury … you don’t see too many of those.

”It’s going to make me stronger in the long run.”

It’s safe to say Torquato will never forget where he was on Valentine’s Day 2012. His night began at Elmira’s First Arena, but ended with a stay in a Buffalo hospital, the result of the tip of the middle finger on his right hand being cut off by the skate Jackals defenseman Mario Larocque.

”I was in the corner with Larocque and it was a forecheck play and we both fell. He got up first and my hand was palm on the ice and he went to jump over me, but landed on the middle finger on my right hand,” the 23-year-old Torquato recalled. ”He went to push off and it was like a pressure cut.”

Unable to find a suitable doctor in the area, Torquato was accompanied back to Wheeling by team trainer Patrick Dragoone. Upon arrival, Torquato visited with a hand specialist and the finger – most of it – was re-attached.

”Pat did a great job and he was with me every step of the way,” Torquato said. ”I got some assurance early on that they could re-attach it. So then I just focused on getting it cleaned and the proper care so they could save as much of the finger as they could.

”They did a great job of stretching it out and it’s the size of my index finger now.”

There was still work to be done, however. Having not used the hand in quite a while, Torquato, in addition to making sure there was no risk of infection, had to regain his strength.

Ultimately, the 6-foot, 195-pound center returned in time for a postseason run, but it was admittedly too soon. Though a small cast was designed to wear over the finger inside his glove, Torquato wasn’t able to take face-offs, a big part of the position. He was switched to the wing but never got comfortable, resulting in one point in four games as the Nailers were eliminated.

He spent the summer further strengthening the hand, only to have his 2012-13 season derailed six games in by a questionable high hit by Reading’s David Marshall that caused the first concussion of Torquato’s career. He missed the next 26 games and is just now back to where he was prior to the incident in Elmira.

”With concussions, you never know a timeline from that. So that’s obviously another frustrating injury. You can’t control that,” Torquato said. ”Pat did a great job and my health was the No. 1 issue.

”It’s more frustrating when you just want to get better and feel 100 percent. Nothing’s physically wrong. At least with a shoulder injury or something you’ve got a timeline.”

Torquato said the symptoms were ”normal” and that nothing was too severe.

”Anytime I felt a little bit better we would do something different and we took baby steps,” Torquato said. ”(Adam Payerl) was going through the same thing so I had someone to skate with.”

Assistant coach Zach Sonnefeld ”was getting us back in shape and I was doing some off the ice biking and stuff. But you never know what kind of shape you’re in until you play a game,” Torquato said.

Now, it’s back to normal.

Torquato scored 40 points (12g-28a) in 60 games last season, and has points in seven of 12 since returning.