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This article was published 4/12/2019 (297 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There will come a time when Mason Appleton finds it all so amusing.
By the sounds of it, that day could be light years away for the Winnipeg Jets forward who is nearing a return to the NHL team's lineup after missing 17 games with a foot injury suffered on the eve of the Heritage Classic outdoor game in Regina.
It's the manner in which the bone was fractured that elicited some eye rolls and head shakes from the assembled media in late October, and likely caused some consternation within the organization on how some innocent fun at practice could turn out so rotten.
"The tough part for Mason is explaining it to people who may not have seen it. 'Did you get hurt in a game?' 'Well, not really,' and that happens, right?... Everybody that has these injuries they go through a little bit of depression within the first 10 days." — Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice
Nearly six weeks later, Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice clearly felt the statute of limitations on playful barbs had expired.
"The tough part for Mason is explaining it to people who may not have seen it. 'Did you get hurt in a game?' 'Well, not really,'" Maurice said following practice on Wednesday. "And that happens, right? You see a guy step off a curb or have those off-ice injuries. I'm not saying it was easy for him. Everybody that has these injuries they go through a little bit of depression within the first 10 days.
"It's a long time off. So we talk to these guys... that's what you gotta watch for, it slows your healing down. Make sure you're around the players, make sure you feel as much as you can that you're a part of it."
Undoubtedly, Appleton's been the most frustrated of all since the mishap occurred while he tossed a football with a few of his teammates on the Mosiac Stadium turf, the day before Jets and Calgary Flames played before an announced crowd of 33,518 hockey fans.
It was supposed to be an innocuous way to warm up before they put on their gear for a test of the makeshift rink, but the 23-year-old forward recalls stepping awkwardly and feeling some pain.
"I just thought I rolled my foot, walked it off for a little bit and it just got worse. I got a picture of it and, obviously, it wasn't what I wanted to see," said Appleton. "It's fluky, obviously. You don't plan for that stuff. It's unfortunate. You live and learn. Just a freak accident.
"Playing that first game will definitely put it all in the rear-view mirror. Rehab and bag skating aren't as fun as playing in games and going on the road with the team and enjoying all of that. So, it's been a pretty tough five or six weeks but I'm excited to get back in there."
"Ever since I was young I didn't have an injury that kept me out more than a week or so, probably since high school. It's definitely the longest I've been off skates for a while. These last seven to 10 days I've really been pushing to get back, and a few team practices are going to do me good." — Mason Appleton
Appleton's injury didn't require surgery, just about six weeks of recovery time. He's accompanying the team on the trip to Dallas — the Jets play the Stars Thursday night — but isn't expected to play until Sunday night, at the earliest, when the Anaheim Ducks visit Bell MTS Place.
Indeed, busting a foot while playing catch with some buddies doesn't make for particularly dramatic injury. Will a time come when he can laugh about it all?
"Maybe when I'm retired, 10 years from now. Like I said five times already, it's frustrating. Maybe when I'm 30 or 40 looking back on it, it'll be funny," Appleton said.
The day it happened — Friday, Oct. 25 — he was seen in a walking boot and crutches near the Jets dressing room, in the bowels of the fancy home of the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders. Later, there were a few jaw-drops when Maurice told reporters, "He broke a bone in his foot trying to intercept a football. Stepped in front of (Kyle) Connor and he’ll be out for a while."
Appleton played the first nine games of the year for the Jets but was held without a point. He was a healthy scratch for a pair of games but was more than likely destined to return to the lineup for the marquee outdoor matchup with Flames.
Instead, he was a reluctant spectator, and has been since — a role he's unaccustomed to playing.
"Ever since I was young I didn't have an injury that kept me out more than a week or so, probably since high school. It's definitely the longest I've been off skates for a while. These last seven to 10 days I've really been pushing to get back, and a few team practices are going to do me good," he said.
Appleton suited up for 36 games with Winnipeg last season, scoring three goals and adding seven assists while finishing as a plus-nine. Speedy, defensively responsible and with offensive traits, the former American Hockey League rookie of the year returned in the fall as a virtual lock as a bottom-six forward and, indeed, made the club despite an underwhelming training camp.
A jolt of scoring would certainly aid a fourth line that's shown only rare glimpses of creativity in the offensive zone.
"I liked parts of my game but there's definitely a lot I can improve on. I think I can definitely chip in a little more offensively. Certainly, you've seen me do that in the past. Once I get back in the lineup here, just run with it," said Appleton.
Through it all, he's managed to steer clear of mockery from his teammates.
"Honestly, if it was something he did that was dumb, I would have been ripping him from the start... OK, maybe a day or two. But there was nothing he could have done. Just one of those freak accidents. It's tough to see," said Andrew Copp.
"I've got a good relationship with him, played with him a lot last year, so you don't want to see that happen to anyone, especially a guy in his first (full) year in the league. To happen that way, it's tough. I felt for him and, hopefully, he comes back and starts playing right away and plays well."
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).
Updated on Wednesday, December 4, 2019 at 9:01 PM CST: Fixes typo.
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