In his first game for the Portland Pirates since Nov. 26, Travis Turnbull was carrying the puck up the wing last Saturday when he noticed an Albany player coming to hit him.

“I saw him and was just trying to put the puck on net,” said Turnbull, a 25-year-old center for the Pirates. “I was just about to get hit ?

So he slid the puck in. Somehow, it bounced over the goalie — and into the net. Quite a way to celebrate your return, eh?

“To be honest, I didn’t see it go in,” he said.

Turnbull is simply glad to be back on the ice for the Pirates. And Portland, heading into its first-round playoff series against the Connecticut Whale on Thursday, is glad to have him back.

Turnbull, who scored five goals and four assists with 28 penalty minutes in 20 games this season, plays an intense, hard-hitting game, something the Pirates will need in the playoffs.

“Hockey in the playoffs is such a different game,” Pirates forward Paul Byron said. “Guys go out there trying to eliminate time and space. You know your season could be over in four games, so the intensity level is so much higher. Having a guy like him on the ice definitely increases our chances of winning.”

Turnbull missed 59 games this season after suffering a severe injury to his right shoulder on Nov. 26. With about five minutes left in the second period, Turnbull went to check a Springfield Falcons player.

“He kind of dodged me, but his foot stayed where it was,” Turnbull said. “And I tripped over his foot and propelled into the boards.

“Honestly, it was the most excruciating pain I’ve ever been through in my life. I almost went into shock, the pain was so severe. I knew something was seriously, seriously wrong.”

Not only did Turnbull suffer a shoulder dislocation, but he damaged his rotator cuff as well. Both injuries required separate surgeries and Turnbull, who never missed a game in his college career at Michigan (playing in a record 166 consecutive games), was shut down.

He stayed with the team during his rehabilitation, doing some video work — he broke down opponents’ faceoffs, looking for any tendencies that could help the Pirates — and community service appearances.

“I wanted to be here and stay involved as much as I could,” said Turnbull, whose shoulder was immobilized. “It was pretty difficult. I’m used to playing hockey every day. That’s my life, and then to have it taken away from you ?you really how much you appreciate it.”

Hockey has been at the center of Turnbull’s life since, well, he was born. His father, Perry Turnbull, played 608 NHL games, most for the St. Louis Blues. He grew up in rinks, or around hockey. Even after his father retired, the Turnbulls stayed close to the game, thanks to the Blues’ alumni association. Travis Turnbull got to know Brett Hull and Craig Janney.

In college, he played at Michigan for Red Berenson, one of the most famous Blues.

“That might have had something to do with me going there,” Turnbull said. “But honestly, when I was 12 years old, I played at Yost Ice Arena (home to the Wolverines) for the St. Louis Blues junior team and I turned to my dad and told him that was where I wanted to play.”

This is Turnbull’s third season with the Pirates, and he’s glad he got to play in a couple of regular-season games before the playoffs began.

“I think I was more nervous about coming back and playing well and making an impact, that’s what I want to do,” he said, when asked if he thought about his shoulder injury at all. “That first shift (last Saturday), I just said to myself, ‘Go in there and hit a few guys and test it out.’ It felt fine and I went from there.”

Once he got into the flow of the game, Turnbull said, “instincts kind of take over ?it’s not like you’re thinking about anything else other than just playing.”

Byron, who scored 26 goals and 27 assists for the Pirates, said it was good to see Turnbull skating again.

“He definitely brings a lot to the team,” Byron said. “He’s such a hard-working guy, he competes every shift he’s on the ice. Just to see how hard he had to work to get back is a testament to the type of guy he is.”

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