Night after night, South Carolina Stingrays forward Chris Higgins would sit high above the ice in section 221 at the North Charleston Coliseum, helpless to aid his teammates.
Sidelined with two separate hand injuries for the better part of four months, Higgins has watched as the season has passed him by.
"I don't think I can put into words how frustrating this season has been for me," said Higgins, who has been limited to just nine games. "I've never been through anything like this before in my career. The worst part has been watching the team up in the stands."
Higgins will be back in the lineup for the Stingrays' annual "Pink in the Rink" night against South Division-leading Gwinnett. Tonight's game, which will feature pink ice and pink uniforms to raise money and awareness for breast cancer, is set to begin at 7 p.m.
"It seems like I've missed the whole season," Higgins said. "When you're hurt, you don't feel like you're a part of the team. And then when the team was struggling, you want to be out there to help out, but there's nothing you can do."
The injury bug hit Higgins almost from the outset of the season. The former Boston University star played in just one game before breaking his thumb in the second week of the season.
He missed the next six weeks before returning to the lineup in the middle of November. He recorded two goals and four assists during that stretch and began to show the skill and hands that made him a prolific scorer with the Terriers.
"Chris probably has the best set of hands on our team," said Stingrays coach Spencer Carbery. "He's a good skater, but it's his hands that make him a special player. He can get his shot off from just about any position on the ice. The shots he's able to generate are unbelievable sometimes."
During a two-game home-stand against Kalamazoo in early December, Higgins had his fingers bent backward during a collision on the ice. He tore the tendon and ligament in his pinky and couldn't grip the stick. Surgery kept him out of the lineup for the next three months.
"Just when I was feeling comfortable and good on the ice, I got hurt again," Higgins said.
To stay in shape, Higgins would skate with the team during practices, but he was not allowed to handle the puck or hold a stick with his injured hand. For a player known for his soft hands and stick handling ability it was pure torture.
"I couldn't handle a puck for almost 10 weeks," he said. "Besides sitting up the stands game after game, that was the toughest part of this whole thing."
With David de Katrozza suffering a season-ending knee injury last weekend in Florida, the return of Higgins couldn't have come at a better time for the Stingrays.
Higgins will give the Stingrays lineup a much needed lift offensively.
"I don't want Chris to put too much pressure on himself," Carbery said. "After missing that much time, it's going to take a game or two for Chris to get back into it. Chris is a pretty even-keeled guy, so I don't think he'll go out there and press too much."
Higgins is just happy to be back on the ice.
"I feel like I'm pretty close to being in game shape," Higgins said. "I want to contribute, but right now I'll be satisfied with making it through a game without getting injured again."