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WILMINGTON, Mass. -- It's been nearly a full calendar year since Boston Bruins forward Nathan Horton has played in an NHL game after suffering his second concussion in a seven-month span on Jan. 22, 2012.
On Thursday, he was back on the ice with his teammates during an informal practice at Ristuccia Arena as the Bruins prepare for a seven-day training camp beginning on Sunday, followed by a lockout-shortened, 48-game season.
"I feel great," he said. "I've had a lot of time to work out and get back to normal. It's obviously been tough for everyone this year, it's not the way anybody wanted this year to be, but I feel great and better than I have in a long time.
I'm not worried about my head. I'm not worried about being in contact, or getting into a fight or anything like that. It's really in the back of my head. I'm looking to the future and haven't thought about it. I feel better than I have in a long, long time.” -- Bruins forward Nathan Horton
"At the end of (last season) I started to feel better and all summer I never had any issues with all my running and biking and skating. I never had a setback. I feel great and I'm pretty happy about that. It's a tough thing to go through and it's in the past now. I'm looking forward to being back and being around the guys again and having some fun."
After he suffered a severe concussion in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals in 2011 and missed the remainder of the series, Horton suffered his second head injury during the second period of a game against Philadelphia on Jan. 22. He was on the receiving end of a late hit by the Flyers' Tom Sestito. Horton stayed in the game for the remainder of the period but sat out the third. That was the last time he played.
"I didn't (think it was serious initially). I think I got a headache right away," he recalled. "Those things happen sometimes, but I'm not thinking about it anymore. All I'm thinking about is the road ahead and I'm looking forward to it."
Horton said he was healthy and ready to play at the time the 2012-13 season was supposed to start, in October.
"Definitely," he said. "I was 100 percent back then. It seems so long ago, but with more time it's obviously helped me, but I was fine back then, too."
He decided to stay at home in Florida and not play overseas because he felt the lockout wouldn't last as long as it did, plus the extended break gave him more time to rest.
"To be back to normal and feel like myself again makes me excited to be back," he said.
While his teammates earned the Northeast Division title and were set to face the Washington Capitals in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, Horton was on the verge of returning. At the time, however, Horton and the team's medical staff thought it best to pull the plug on his season. Boston lost that series in seven games.
Horton said it was difficult to watch from the outside.
"Definitely, especially with the year before and what we did as a team (winning the Stanley Cup)," he said. "Not being able to be around the guys at that special time of the year. I got one shot of it the year before, and obviously with one taste of it you want to keep going. I didn't get to do that and I was pretty disappointed. It was a tough year for me. I'm happy to be back and I want to start it off right and hopefully keep moving forward."
Even though Horton suffered a pair of concussions in a seven-month span, he doesn't intend to change his style of play.
"I forgot about (the concussions)," he said with a smile. "This is the first time I'm talking about it because nobody has asked me. I haven't thought about it. It's way in my past. It's not on my mind at all.
"The truth is, I really haven't even thought about it. I'm not worried about my head. I'm not worried about being in contact, or getting into a fight or anything like that. It's really in the back of my head. I'm looking to the future and haven't thought about it. I feel better than I have in a long, long time. I'm just happy I feel good, and it's not even on my mind."
His presence Thursday in the locker room and on the ice was welcomed by his teammates. The top-line winger's production is important for the Bruins' success and the players know it.
"He always has a big smile on his face and is always having a good time. He's infectious in this locker room and he's a great guy to have on the team," said teammate Rich Peverley. "We're a lot better team having him in the lineup and I think everybody knows that."
Having not played in a competitive game in nearly a full year, Horton understands it may take a few games to get his timing back.
"Hopefully not too much," he said. "Being around the guys here I'm going to keep working hard and work extra hard because I haven't been able to play games. I think my legs will be there. Maybe I won't carry the puck too much, just dump it in, get in and try to get at it. I feel good and I've been working really hard. I've been doing as much as I can."
The Bruins have had little turnover on their roster since they won the Cup in 2011 and should be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. A healthy and productive Horton back in the lineup should help the team's cause.
"We have so many great faces here, so many great players, good guys, good coaches, good trainers -- everybody," Horton said. "It's nice to be around the guys and it's fun to come to the rink when everybody gets along and everybody enjoys being around each other.
"I want to help out as best I can," he said. "I think every year there are expectations at the beginning of the year, but coming in I feel good and I just want to get back to playing and enjoying myself. I really missed it."