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Lost for season, Flyers winger Cam Atkinson will undergo neck surgery on Wednesday

The 33-year-old veteran has not played for the team this season. The injury is related to wear-and-tear, GM Chuck Fletcher said.

Flyers right winger Cam Atkinson on the ice against the New York Islanders on March 20.
Flyers right winger Cam Atkinson on the ice against the New York Islanders on March 20.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

The Flyers announced Monday that right winger Cam Atkinson is out for the season. Atkinson, 33, will undergo neck surgery on Wednesday, the team said.

General manager Chuck Fletcher said that Atkinson did not suffer a specific injury so much as he is dealing with a wear-and-tear situation. The winger thought he could rehab and get back, but he wasn’t consistently meeting the return-to-play requirements the medical staff gave him, Fletcher said. Under the advice of his doctors, Atkinson made the decision to undergo surgery.

“I think the doctor kind of laid it out that you might be able to come back and play if you continue to rehab, but you’ve got to look at the bigger picture here in terms of nerve irritation in your arm,” Fletcher said. “And if you want to get back to 100 percent, for the long term, you need to do this. And I think that really resonated with Cam.”

Atkinson is expected to make a full recovery, the team said.

Atkinson, who was one of the team’s best players last season, came into training camp feeling good. He participated in all of coach John Tortorella’s “welcome to camp” skating drills, Fletcher pointed out. But he sat himself before playing in a preseason game.

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After that, Atkinson was back and forth between Philadelphia and Columbus, Ohio, where he resides. He worked with medical professionals who helped him while he played for the Blue Jackets and consulted the medical team with the Flyers. During his absence, Tortorella said Atkinson would return by the season opener.

Atkinson returned to Philadelphia on Oct. 11, two days before the opener. He practiced but did not play in any games. He returned again during the week of Nov. 21 and has sporadically participated in practices since then. Tortorella, who has a close personal relationship with Atkinson from their time together in Columbus, explained what Atkinson was going through.

“He felt like it was coming and he’s ready to go, even looking at a date,” Tortorella said. “And then he just has a bad day. ... Tried all different things with ... the whole group down there. And he just couldn’t sustain it to get over the hump.”

Tortorella acted as a “sounding board” for Atkinson through the process. The coach said he could see how much Atkinson wanted to be a part of things and return. Some days, he was raring to go, but Fletcher said the medical staff’s parameters protected him from himself.

Finally, Atkinson and the doctors decided it was time to take a different route. Atkinson informed longtime friend Kevin Hayes of his decision during warmups before Saturday’s game. Having gone through a similar process when he was fighting through surgeries and infection to get back on the ice, Hayes said he understands how tough this is to some extent. He saw how excited Atkinson was for camp and said Atkinson was probably getting excited to tell the team he was ready return before his most recent setback.

“It [stinks] for him and doesn’t help our team at all,” Hayes said. “But personally, for Cam, he’s probably going through a hard time right now.”

Atkinson also talked a lot with Joel Farabee, who had disk replacement surgery in his cervical region during the offseason. Fletcher said they won’t know if it’s a similar issue until the surgeons get a look at what’s going on during surgery.

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Atkinson’s teammates said injuries are part of hockey and they have to stay focused, but they added that this is a big loss for the Flyers. Atkinson contributed 23 goals and 27 assists in 73 games last season. He was the team’s leading scorer before he sat out the end of the season.

“Having Cam around and just the energy he brings, he’s always got a smile on his face, so definitely someone we love having around,” Farabee said. “I just hope the best for him and however he overcomes this. The sooner we can get him back, the better since he’s a great player and a big part of our team.”

Fletcher and Tortorella said losing Atkinson affects the team’s chances this season since they’ll lose his skill and his leadership. But they’re focused on his overall health and the big picture, which will be getting him back to help build for the future.

“So hopefully we wish him good luck on that, and he’s healthy and ready to go next year,” Tortorella said.