Austin Madaisky already is preparing for the 2012-13 hockey season.
With an NHL contract in his hip pocket, the Kamloops Blazers defenceman is doing it with a lot less weight on his shoulders.
"It definitely (was a relief)," Madaisky said Friday after signing a three-year entry-level contract with the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets. "It's nice to not have to worry about that any more."
It was only a year ago when Madaisky, who turned 20 on Jan. 30, was trying to rehab a broken neck. He suffered a fractured cervical vertebrae - a C-7 fracture - in a game against the visiting Chilliwack Bruins on Feb. 4, 2011. He was fitted with an Aspen Cervical Collar that he wore for a number of weeks, but was well enough to attend a Columbus development camp in May 2011.
He definitely showed no ill effects during the just-completed WHL season as he was the Blazers' best defenceman and was named to the Western Conference's second all-star team.
"It seems so long ago," Madaisky said of his injury. "So much has happened in that time. . . . so much success personally and with the team that it's kind of like that almost didn't even happen."
The Blazers, of course, won the B.C. Division this season and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1999. They were eliminated by the Portland Winterhawks, who used home-ice advantage to their benefit and beat the Blazers 2-0 in Game 7 of a conference semfinal.
"This was the best season of my life. Absolutely," he said. "You won't find a dressing room like that one anywhere . . . brotherhood."
Madaisky set personal highs in goals (13), assists (37), points (50) and plus-minus (20). The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder also continued to develop into a hard-hitting, physical shutdown defender.
He feels that he improved "quite a lot."
"I set personal bests in offensive numbers," he added, "but I thought I made the most significant strides in the defensive part of my game. The game really started to slow down and I thought I really matured as a player this season."
Like so many players on the most-recent edition of the Blazers, Madaisky is quick to thank one individual in particular.
"A lot of that is credited to Dave Hunchak," Madasiky said of the team's associate coach. "He came in and taught us a lot this season."
After the season ended, Madaisky said he took off about two weeks. But now he's back in the gym and also starting to return to the ice.
"By next week," he said, "it's going to be full-blown training . . . all day, every day. You make it this far, this is where the really hard work starts."
And with having signed an NHL contract, he admitted that his focus has changed.
"I'm preparing this summer like I'm trying to come into camp and make the Blue Jackets," he said. "That's the way I'm looking at it. After that, whatever happens, happens."
If he doesn't play in the NHL, he most likely would be assigned to the Blue Jackets' AHL affiliate, the Springfield, Mass., Falcons. However, he is eligible to return to the Blazers for one more season.
Would he be disappointed to end up back here?
"I wouldn't call it disappointing," he said. "I love the city . . . it's my second home. My team is great, billets are great. It would still be a good situation.
"But I would definitely like to turn pro next season and I think it would be a lot better for my development to start playing against those guys right away."
Madaisky's contract, a standard entry-level deal, calls for an NHL salary of US$595,000, $620,000 and $650,000 in each of the next three seasons. His AHL salary would be $60,000 in each season. He also received a $210,000 signing bonus, payable in three instalments over three years, although the first cash hasn't year arrived in his bank account.
"I actually haven't got it yet," he said, before laughing and adding: "Which might be better. Maybe it's better if they hang on to it for a bit."
When the first instalment does arrive, Madaisky said he doesn't really have any plans for it.
"I'm going to try to save most of it," he said. "I might buy a couple of gifts for family members, that sort of thing. But I'm def not looking at buying anything like a new car, nothing like that. Maybe next contract . . ."
The Blue Jackets selected Madaisky in the fifth round of the NHL's 2010 entry draft. They had until June 1 to sign him, or he would have gone back into the next draft, which is scheduled for Pittsburgh, June 22-23.
Left-winger Brendan Ranford of the Blazers was selected by the Philadelphia Flyers in the seventh round of the 2010 draft. He has yet to sign and, if he doesn't, will be available in next month's draft.
JUST NOTES: F Chase Schaber, the Blazers captain for the last two seasons, has decided to attend St. Francis Xavier U in Antigonish, N.S., and play for the X-Men. Schaber, 21, had his WHL career ended by a skate cut to his left leg during Game 3 of a first-round playoff series against the Royals in Victoria. He later underwent surgery at Royal Inland Hospital. "I just started walking on my leg (Thursday)," Schaber said in a news release issued by the Blazers. "I've been rehabbing three days a week and have started strength training on it. I am willing to do whatever is needed to get back to what I love doing and making my way to pro hockey through the CIS." . . . D Bronson Maschmeyer, who completed his eligibility with the Blazers this season, also has committed to the X-Men, as has G Drew Owsley, who finished up his career with the Prince George Cougars. . . . Jeff Chynoweth, the president and general manager of the Kootenay Ice, fired head coach Kris Knoblauch on Friday, just a few days after giving him a one-year contract extension through 2013-14. Knoblauch interviewed later in the day for the head-coaching position with the U of Alberta Golden Bears. There is more on that situation at gdrinnan.blogspot.ca.