Year of the comebackYear of the comeback
You can’t name just one comeback player of the year when it’s the entire league that has returned.
Face it, the NHL has too many comebacks to count. Thirty teams, 750 players, 1,230 games, hundreds of thousands of fans all rejoiced the return of the NHL last fall – or should we say, the birth of the New NHL? – with open arms. The party is started again, and seven months later the music is booming and there’s excitement in the air and the dance floor is more crowded than ever.
But it’s probably safe to say the six men profiled in this week’s issue of The Hockey News had extra reason to celebrate the various successes of 2005-06.
Some of them overcame medical maladies. Patrik Elias came back from potentially life-threatening illness. Rem Murray defied the odds to return after a debilitating nerve condition. Tim Connolly is a head-case no more. Others – Dany Heatley, Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne – fought to prove they still had passion in their gut and goals in their sticks. After disappointment the last time they laced ‘em up, they showed they still had the desire and the ability to play this game.
And the rest of us still have the desire to watch them.
Scott Gomez was one of the first Devils to visit teammate Patrik Elias in New Jersey last summer. It had already been two months since Elias was released from a hospital in the Czech Republic, but his battle with a severe case of hepatitis A was far from over.
Although Elias was frail, still unable to do much physical activity at that point, it was a photo from when the left winger had just left the hospital that stunned Gomez.
"That was scary," Gomez recalled.
"He was really thin and a weird color. See that yellow hockey stick over there? That’s what he looked like."
Elias said it’s true.
"Too bad I don’t have more pictures of the way I looked," he said. "Horrible."
Elias contracted hepatitis A, a viral infection of the liver, while playing in Russia during the NHL lockout. It is usually spread because of poor sanitary conditions. Although it is almost never fatal to people his age, especially a professional athlete, it could have ended his NHL career.
After recovering in a Czech Republic hospital and then coming back to New Jersey to be treated by doctors, Elias missed all of training camp and the first 39 games of the regular season. Then came a grueling workout regimen in which he pushed himself through tremendous physical pain. He played his first game of 2005-06 Jan. 3 and sparked a Devils turnaround by scoring points in each of his first four games back (two goals, eight points). New Jersey won all four contests.
"When he came back he was a big help," said Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur. "It was like we were waiting for him."
- Rich Chere
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