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A Long Road Back to the Rink

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Most goalies I know can tell stories about a particular save they made at one time or another.  Yes, it’s our job description to block those pucks, but there are those particular saves that stick out in our minds.  Sometimes it is the circumstances; a crucial stop in the dying seconds of the game to preserve a playoff victory or a big save off the opposing team’s superstar to keep a tight game at level scores.  Other times, it might be the way a save is made – a diving glove grab or a spectacular heel clicker save while down and out during a scramble.

This particular save was made last Saturday.  There was nothing flashy about it, just a routine deflection to the corner.  It wasn’t a game changing save – in fact, it wasn’t even during the game.  I made it during the brief pre-game warm-up.  My teammates were skating around and limbering up and smacking pucks off the boards.  Eventually I was set up in the crease and one of our wingers snapped a shot that I quickly knocked to the corner with my blocker.  And I didn’t even play in the game that followed; I sat on the bench and watched my friend and fellow goaltender play.  But even then I was replaying that one blocker save I made during the warm-up.  It’s one that stands out and will continue to do so for a long time to come.

Flashback to April 2013, 8 months earlier.  I was playing for the first time since January, having just come off the injured list.  The excitement was definitely there – getting back into the game and having fun doing what I love.  But it didn’t last long.  Less then a minute into the game, a harmless dump in floated toward the net and I swung my arm to blocker the puck into the corner.  The next second I was lying on the ice, screaming in pain from a dislocated shoulder.  The same injury had occurred (although off the ice and much more seriously) in January, and it had come back to haunt me.  Fortunately it was only a subluxation and it popped back in on its own, unlike the earlier incident; a complete shoulder dislocation that had required an ambulance trip to the hospital.  Nevertheless, the feeling of disappointment as I skated off the ice was palpable.  I could no longer play hockey in the shape I was in – in fact, I nearly popped it out again later reaching into the fridge for some cheese!

In May I underwent shoulder surgery to repair the damage and stabilize the joint.  After two weeks in a sling (and learning how much more complicated life becomes when one loses use their dominant hand) rehab began.  Some days it seemed that nothing was improving and then I’d worry that I’d be stuck with a right arm that worked like a rusty pump handle.  But, with encouragement from my physiotherapist and perseverance, things continued to improve.  In the back of my mind, however, one question lingered; when can I play hockey again?  I missed everything about it – the camaraderie with my teammates, the satisfaction of a win, even the simple things like strapping my pads on.

In the middle of November, after many months of rehab and exercising, I received clearance to “warm up” with my team.  No shots, no games, but I could put my gear on and skate.  It’s not the same as actually playing the game, but it was close enough to thrill me.  I was excited just to tie up my skates!  Since I didn’t have the luxury of practices, the only option was pre-game warm-ups.  Words can’t describe my first skate stride in full gear since my injury.  Of course, I studiously avoided moving my stick hand around.  But to have reached the point of being able to skate again was a victory in itself.  Once the time came for the pucks to come out, I skated to the bench and watched the team finish their drills.  How long had it been since I’d made a save?

I received clearance to take a few shots a couple of weeks ago, and on Saturday I pulled on my gear and headed out to the ice, excited and nervous.  It’s not a small thing to make the very motion that has triggered so much intense pain in the past.  After a few low shots that I could steer away with my pads, I asked for a few high glove side shots.  Then one of the wingers fired high blocker.  I knocked the puck into the corner with the exact motion that had caused the shoulder subluxation 8 months ago.  But this time there was no pain.  The sense of relief was amazing – and all from an ordinary swing and rotation of my arm.  With that simple blocker save, I’d reached a target that had once seemed so distant.

It’s been a long road back to rink, and I’m still not all the way there.  The hope at this point is to return to playing either in late January or early February.  I’m looking forward to that first game back!

And, as it is December, I wish all the member’s of the Women’s Hockey Life community a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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