To Mitch Wahl, there is no better feeling than strapping on the skates and hitting the ice alongside his teammates.
That wasn't so much the case last year, when the Abbotsford Heat forward was forced to spent the second half of the 2010/11 American Hockey League season in the press box with a concussion he sustained on a violent, but clean, open-ice bodycheck courtesy Aaron Volpatti, a member of the former Manitoba Moose, on Nov. 27.
Wahl lay motionless on the ice at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre in a pool of blood, and needed to be carted away on a stretcher.
He returned to the lineup on Jan. 4 against the same Moose, but was sidelined just a few days later to the press box when his symptoms returned.
The 21-year-old Wahl is back now, doing what he loves to do, but with a new perspective on it.
"It's quite the experience," said Wahl of being out of the lineup for 63 games last season, mostly due to the concussion.
"It was an eye-opener for me. It was hard for me to recover and I just couldn't get to the point I wanted to get to in order to start playing again.
"At the same time, I have more respect for the game, and I don't have any tolerance when I see a bad hit because I know how it is sitting out for so long."
Wahl officially made his return to game action as a member of the Calgary Flames prospects team at the Canucks 2011 Young Stars Tournament in Penticton.
He skated on a line with his closest friend on the Heat, Jon Rheault, and former Phoenix Coyotes first-round draft pick Krys Kolanos in Sunday's 3-1 win over the UBC Thunderbirds men's hockey team.
Where he slots into the lineup when the Heat begin the regular season on Oct. 7 against the Lake Erie Monsters is up to head coach Troy Ward, but for Wahl's teammates, just seeing him back on the ice is a relief.
"It's great to see him out there," said Rheault, one of Wahl's closest friends on the team.
"He definitely has a renewed respect for the game, and an excitement for the game."
After the events of last season, Wahl is looking to make up for missed time.
He had only one goal and five points in 17 games last season in Abbotsford, but came out of junior hockey with the Spokane Chiefs as a 96-point player in 2009/10 before joining the Heat for their post-season run.
"For myself I have high expectations," said Wahl.
"I see last year as a wash pretty much. This year I want to be a highly touted offensive player, and I'm hoping to be used in the right role.
"Troy understands my game and knows how I play so I have faith that he'll put me in a position to succeed."
The coach, while pleased to see Wahl back playing again, knows the young forward will have to endure.
"To be Mitch Wahl and to not play that much, go through the injury he went through and then rehab all summer and try to get your game back, that takes time," said Ward.
"I'm happy for Mitch, but he's going to have to be patient with his game."