After six weeks on the sidelines, the 21-year-old defenseman entered the Checkers lineup for Game 2 of the team’s first-round playoff series against Oklahoma City on Saturday. For an inexperienced player coming in cold to face postseason intensity for the first time at that level, he more than held his own.
“I thought he handled it well,” said coach Jeff Daniels of the Hurricanes’ third-round pick (67th overall) in 2010. “He’d been out for a while but got right back in.”
“It took me a couple of shift to get my legs under me, but after that, it was fun,” said Biega.
Biega never really got a chance to have fun in his professional debut against Norfolk on March 13. Midway through the first period, on only his second or third shift as a professional hockey player, he took a hard hit behind his own net and fell to the ice. Though he got up after a brief pause, it was clear something was amiss, as he couldn’t seem to get his balance and had a tough time following the play.
At the first whistle, he left the ice with assistance, still visibly dazed.
“I remember everything, believe it or not,” he said Monday. “I saw the guy coming in my peripheral vision but just couldn’t get out of the way.
“It was not good luck and not the way I pictured it.”
The injury itself capped what had already been a crazy few days for Biega, who had just finished a four-year career with Harvard University – one that produced several individual awards during his junior season, including an All-American nod. Many prospects that turn pro under similar circumstances don’t enter the lineup right away, but with the Checkers in the midst of an injury crisis, he was in.
“I only found out I was signing the night before and had to basically pack up my college life in a couple of hours,” he said.
Since the injury, he had been practicing with varying degrees of success up until the week leading up to the playoffs, when he finally took the last step forward. After sitting out Friday’s Game 1, he replaced a healthy Beau Schmitz for Game 2, forming a pairing with fellow late-season rookie Ryan Murphy.
While the long-term upside of that duo is significant (Murphy was the 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft), they had just nine combined games of pro experience between them, including Biega’s abbreviated debut. It was a lot to ask for a road playoff game, but they didn’t look out of place.
“It’s one thing to get out there for a playoff game as opposed to a regular season game, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way,” said Biega. “It forced me to be on top of my game right away.”
With the Checkers carrying only seven healthy defensemen, at least one of Biega and Murphy is likely to stay in the lineup for Game 3. However, Michal Jordan and Brendon Nash, two experienced players who would be key regulars on the team’s blue line if healthy, returned to practice on Monday.