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It’s been a long time coming.

Cael Zimmerman knew that he would make his return to the Hitmen lineup at some point during the season after undergoing hip surgery in the off-season.

He was itching to get back and started 2020 in the best way possible when he got the clear to play on New Year’s Day.

“I was so pumped,” Zimmerman said. “I was actually glad that it was a 1 pm start, I didn’t have to wait and think about it all day. It took a while to get the legs under me and get up to game speed, but it was a lot of fun being back out there with the boys.

“It was just over eight months of waiting. It wasn’t easy but now that I’m back, I’m putting that behind me and looking forward to the rest of the year.”

The physical aspect of the rehab process wasn’t the only thing the forward had to worry about, but also the metal aspect of it.

Sitting out for that long is tough, but Zimmerman never lost sight of the end goal of returning.

“I think the mental aspect of injuries can be overlooked a lot of the time,” he said. “It’s easy to get down and feel bad for yourself but the support I had from everyone was tremendous and helped.

“Prior to the surgery, I had a talk with Jeff (Chynoweth) and Steve (Hamilton) and they figured that it would be best for me stay back home and rehab there for a while. It’s a long process and looking at if I came here to Calgary earlier, I would be around the team but not really around them, missing out on a lot of things. I think that would’ve been mentally draining.”

In nine games played since his return, Zimmerman has collected three points (1G, 2A) and scored his first of the season in his third game back.

And as an added bonus, he’s skated on a line for a few of those games with long-time friend Blake Allan.

“It’s going back a while when we played together in Humboldt back in Bantam,” he said. “He’s a hard working player and a great character guy. I was just as excited as him when he got traded here, I was the first person he messaged to tell me the news and we were both excited.

“You don’t really think about it at the time having a great friend play on your line let alone the same team, especially here in the WHL. It’s pretty special and surreal.”

And as for what the outlook for Zimmerman is for the remainder of the regular season and beyond, it’s simple.

“Stay healthy,” he laughed. “I’ve had my fair share of injuries in my career and now I just want to get into rhythm and play more confident.

“With experience comes confidence and maturity. It’s my third year in the league and I want to have more belief in myself to make plays and make an impact.”

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