As it turned out, he also suffered an injury during the contest.
“He had a big game in Hartford and blocked a shot that ended up causing the injury that he had,” said Checkers Head Coach Geordie Kinnear. “But he still ended up scoring the game winner.”
HAVE YOURSELF A NIGHT, DENI ? pic.twitter.com/hiX4WJMCij— Charlotte Checkers (@CheckersHockey) January 13, 2022
It proved to be a serious ailment, and after gutting it out to help his team to victory that night, Denisenko would be forced to the sidelines for the remainder of the season.
“I broke my kneecap,” said Denisenko. “I had surgery.”
That injury derailed what had been a solid campaign that Denisenko was piecing together.
After coming up in the KHL, the 15th overall pick in 2018 made the jump to North America with last season’s shortened campaign. He excelled in his first taste of the game here, posting four assists in seven NHL games with Florida and adding nine points in 15 games for the Syracuse Crunch - the Tampa Bay affiliate who were temporarily housing Panthers prospects as the Checkers opted out of the season.
Year two would be a shake up for Denisenko, as he made the move to Charlotte.
“The start was hard for me because I needed some time to find my game,” said Denisenko. “New plays for me, new city, new club, new teammates.”
It didn’t take particularly long for the 21-year-old to get things going - after posting one point in his first seven games, he racked up 17 over the next 23.
In terms of what exactly it was that sparked Denisenko, you can draw a direct line from his production on the ice to his intense drive to improve.
“He loves being at the rink and loves to work on his game,” said Kinnear. “He continued to ask me, ‘Is there more ice tomorrow night? Can I get on again?’ When you have that much passion for the game and you want to be around the rink, you’re going to get better.”
Denisenko found his groove and stood out as an offensive force for the Checkers, ranking in the top three on the team in scoring in mid January.
“In the months after I found my game and I felt good on the ice,” he said. “I started to get points and score goals. Then I got the injury.”
For someone known for constantly wanting to work on his game, Denisenko had to adjust to the recovery process. But despite not being able to join his teammates on the ice, he was a constant presence around the rink - crutches and all.
“Being with my teammates and the coaching staff was really important,” said Denisenko.
At the conclusion of the season, Denisenko’s outlook was positive.
“I’m feeling good,” he said. “It’s six weeks after surgery and I’m starting to bend my knee. I’m going to start working out and in three weeks I’m going to start skating.”
As he continues his road to recovery, Denisenko’s sights are firmly set on returning to the ice for next season.
“I’ll do everything to prepare myself and be in the best shape and be ready for camp,” he said.
It was a disappointingly short campaign for the Florida prospect, but the success he saw early on among all the adjustments is an extremely encouraging insight into a bright future - and the last impression he left on the ice illustrates that.
“That’s the type of stuff you have to have to win in the playoffs,” said Kinnear. “You have to score big goals, you have to have big blocks. His last game was a really good game to me and we’re excited for what he can bring moving forward.”