Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'I feel lucky to be here'

Jets' rising blue-line star back on the ice mere six weeks after horrifying, life-threatening injury

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It was a quiet, almost whispered quote in a discussion the day after Winnipeg Jets defenceman Zach Redmond had his leg cut near in half by a teammate's skate blade.

"We're lucky we're not planning a funeral today," a sombre Jets chairman Mark Chipman said during a conversation the morning after and when very little was known about the future of the 24-year-old defenceman.

Now, just six weeks after the most horrific injury of this NHL season and many others, Redmond is back on skates and hopefully preparing to take his spot once again as a member of the Jets.

No one could have expected the injury to occur and no one could have predicted the rapid return of Redmond and his thrumming life force. Spilling close to half the blood in one's body can knock the twinkle out of one's eyes. Not Zach Redmond.

"I honestly feel fortunate. It's more of a 'I feel lucky to be here than unlucky to be hurt,' " said Redmond, minutes after his first skate in Winnipeg since having his femoral artery severed near the end of a Jets practice in late February.

"And I'm just kinda thankful for what happened. You know I got my goal and my assist out of the way and got my first NHL game so I was checking them off and I'm really happy that occurred. Outside of that I'm just really, really fortunate to be here and happy to skate again."

Redmond had become a happy story, called up from the AHL and inserted in the Jets lineup, he had found a home on the club's blue-line scoring a goal and four assists in eight games. The Traverse City, Mich., native saw a high of 24 minutes of ice one night and was averaging close to 20 minutes per game.

Smart, competitive and skilled, Redmond was pushing for more and creating healthy competition on the blue-line.

But late on the morning of Feb. 21 during a pre-game skate in Raleigh, N.C., that came to and end and so to, almost, did Redmond's life as his teammate Antti Miettinen's skate blade sunk into his upper thigh and completely severed his femoral artery.

Redmond is back in Winnipeg and on Friday he skated with injured teammates Anthony Peluso and Jim Slater. Doctors say he'll play again and aren't ruling out a return this season if the Jets' season were to drag deep into the playoffs.

Redmond stepped off the ice with his easy countenance and smilingly fielded questions on his injury and recovery.

"You know what, it happened so quick, I honestly didn't really know what was going on. I remember the whole thing, but I think it might have scared other people that were watching a little worse because I couldn't really see everything that was going on, there were so many people around," said Redmond.

Jets off-ice personnel, as well as Peluso and Miettinen, all moved quickly into rescue mode.

"We take refresher courses every summer on rescue measures and we have the equipment guys take them, too," said Jets head athletic therapist Rob Milette. "It's amazing that those refresher courses played a role in maybe saving a life."

Redmond revealed his wounds to the media, showing off a scar on his thigh that looked like a shark bite as well as another on his calf produced by doctors cutting him open in surgery to relieve pressure moving down his leg.

"I didn't actually feel the cut, I don't know if I was in shock or what, but the cut itself didn't hurt. And then seeing the blood, that initial shock was like 'whoa.' But yeah, like I'm sure you all heard I'm just really fortunate for the coaches and players and everybody that jumped in. I'm convinced it saved my life. I couldn't be more lucky," said Redmond. "I think during the ambulance ride, right away they put a tourniquet on me and I think it was Perry Pearn's coat around my leg. When I got into the ambulance they put a real tourniquet on me, and when they started wrenching down on that thing it was probably the most painful part."

Redmond recounted the few minutes on the ice prior to the injury and said he saw it coming as the moment progressed like sliding into a car accident but not being able to stop it.

"From what I remember I was doing the 1-on-1 drill there, trying to stop the forward from getting to the net, we kinda fell," said Redmond. "For some reason it was kinda weird, I kinda knew there was nowhere else for (Miettinen) to step. So I was kinda looking at my leg waiting for a skate to come down and it was pinched on the post so I couldn't really go anywhere."

Peluso was on the ice throughout the incident and was happy to see his friend back in Winnipeg but was fairly guarded about their reunion this week.

"I picked him up. We hugged and then I took him to Tim Horton's for a coffee," said Peluso. "I bought."

Veteran Mark Stuart hides his emotions most days but he couldn't hold back on Redmond.

"I poked my head out and not only is he on the ice, he looks good on the ice," said Stuart. "It's just great to see."

Redmond may have got his first goal with the Jets but he wants another and is going to do everything he can to return to action with his team.

"I can only hope so, I'm gonna do everything I can to make sure that happens," said Redmond. "You know we'll see how the recovery goes but it's a great city and a great team and I'd love the opportunity."

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless


HOCKEY'S WORST INJURIES

Clint Malarchuk, Buffalo Sabres -- March 22, 1989: Steve Tuttle's skate cut him in the neck and blood squirted on the ice. Had 300 stitches, returned five games later and also played in the playoffs.

Howie Morenz, Montreal Canadiens -- Jan. 28, 1937: Suffered multiple fractures to his leg after crashing into the end boards. Died in hospital due to complications from his injuries on March 8.

Ted Green, Boston Bruins -- Sept. 21, 1969: Green and St. Louis Blues forward Wayne Maki engaged in a stick- swinging incident and Green was struck in the head suffering a fractured skull. He missed the rest of the season but returned to play eventually retiring as a member of the Winnipeg Jets in 1979.

Richard Zednik, Florida Panthers -- Feb. 10, 2008: Olli Jokinen's skate flew up after getting hit by Clarke MacArthur and cut him on the neck. Played the following season 2008-09 with Panthers (70 games) and two more seasons in Europe before retiring.

Kurtis Foster, Minnesota Wild -- March 20, 2008: Broke his left femur when chasing down an icing with Torrey Mitchell. Had surgery, missed the rest of the season and post-season. Returned February 9, 2009 in the AHL.

Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators -- Feb. 14, 2013: Matt Cooke's skate slices the Achilles of Erik Karlsson. Karlsson missed the rest of the season, hopes to come back for next year. Awareness about Kevlar socks became more prevalent.

Bryan Berard, Toronto Maple Leafs -- March 11, 2000: The follow-through of Marian Hossa's stick hit Berard in the eye, resulting in a retinal tear and detached retina. Played seven more seasons. Won Bill Masterton Trophy in 2004.

Trent McLeary, Montreal Canadiens -- Jan. 29, 2000: Blocked a Chris Therien shot that hit him in the throat. Fractured his larynx and had a collapsed lung. He was unable to speak until six weeks after the injury. He tried to return for the 2000 season but his airway passage had been reduced and found himself short of breath.

Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings -- May 1, 2004: A deflected puck hit him in the eye, broke his orbital bone and scratched his cornea. Didn't play the rest of the playoffs, missed the World Cup of hockey (Sept 2004), but returned after the lockout with a visor.

Steve Moore, Colorado Avalanche -- March 8, 2004: Todd Bertuzzi attacked Moore from behind, which resulted in three fractured neck vertebrae, facial cuts and a concussion. Moore wore a neck brace for a year and never returned. There's an ongoing lawsuit against Bertuzzi and the Canucks.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 6, 2013 C5

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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