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This article was published 5/2/2018 (744 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Hockey has been a major part of his DNA since he was old enough to first pick up a stick or strap on a pair of skates. He lives for the game. Eats, breathes and sleeps it. Obsesses about it, really.
So you can imagine how the conversation likely went as doctors told Mark Scheifele in late December that a shoulder injury was going to keep him from doing what he loves for up to two months.
"They sucked," Scheifele said Monday as he recalled the first few days following the initial diagnosis. "Obviously it sucked being out for that long. It gets boring, and being in a sling for as long as I was, it sucked."
But now, just short of six weeks later, he’s on the cusp of returning to the lineup and his spot as the No. 1 centre on the No. 1 team in hockey’s toughest division, the 31-13-9 Winnipeg Jets. Scheifele resumed skating on Jan. 28, then shed his no-contact jersey on Monday and was a full participant in his team’s practice.
While a return to the lineup tonight when the Jets host the Arizona Coyotes is unlikely, head coach Paul Maurice said he’s likely to play in their next game on Friday against the St. Louis Blues.
"I’m feeling good right now. It’s nice to get some bumps in and be feeling good from it. I’m happy with my progress," said Scheifele, who was getting one more medical evaluation on Monday afternoon, which he hoped would bring good news. "It’s a little bit in the doctor’s hands. They’re the experts, still gotta see him and make sure everything’s healing perfect."
Scheifele was off to a terrific start this season, with 15 goals and 23 assists through his first 38 games. But then came the collision with Brandon Davidson during that Dec. 27 game against the Edmonton Oilers that sent Scheifele crashing awkwardly into the boards. Scheifele instantly knew it was bad.
"I could tell something went wrong. It’s weird, you go to the boards, you get hit a million times in a year, and one that you wouldn’t expect to hurt you, hurts you," he said. "I was pretty immobilized for the start of it. That was tough to sleep like that and go through all that."
So what was Scheifele’s exact injury? It’s no secret it involved his shoulder, but he wasn’t revealing any more details when asked on Monday.
"I went into the boards and I hurt myself," he told a throng of media. "I don’t want to give you the specifics, but it’s healing really well. Feeling better every day, happy I’m battling and happy I’m getting to see you beautiful people again."
Scheifele said his brother spent a week with him in Winnipeg during the early days of his recovery, and roommate Andrew Copp has helped keep his spirits high. He also heard from rival NHL players, including the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steven Stamkos, whom he often trains with in the off-season.
"Stammer’s been through it all. Hearing it from him, knowing he’s been through a lot worse than I have, that obviously makes it easy," said Scheifele. "I have a lot of great friends, a lot of great people around me helping me through it. Definitely a lot of well wishes. Can’t thank them enough for helping me through it."
Scheifele said he’s been pushing as hard as possible, which has led to some lectures from medical staff.
"Everyone always says slow down. I’m a guy who likes to do as much as I can," he said.
Scheifele said he was pleasantly surprised when he resumed skating just over a week ago and realized how good he felt.
"First day I was on the ice. I was pretty much able to do everything. Obviously you gotta be cautious of falling on it, landing on it weird is the biggest thing. But for me, right when I got on the ice I was able to do everything. That was a pretty happy moment for me," he said.
Scheifele said the biggest morale boost has been the continued strong play of the team. The Jets are 10-2-3 in the 15 games since he’s gone down. One of the biggest reasons has been the play of captain Blake Wheeler, who moved from right wing to centre in Scheifele’s absence.
"They’ve done unbelievable. I think it starts right at the top with Wheels. He’s a guy that drives this team each and every night. Whether he’s on the wing or centre, it starts right from the top and I think everyone follows his lead. I definitely know when I’m in the lineup I follow his lead each and every night. That’s what this team did, they played a solid game, battled right to the end, and I couldn’t be happier to see our record right now," said Scheifele. "(Wheeler) has been playing solid all over the ice, making plays just like he always is. Everything you can expect from him, he’s doing it. He’s stepping up his game. That’s the exact leader we have in this room and know we have. We’re lucky to have him."
Maurice has said Wheeler’s strong play up the middle gives the team some options and that a move back to the wing isn’t automatic. But Scheifele said Monday he hopes to be reunited with the captain.
"I hope he’s on my wing. He’s the most favourite player I’ve ever played with," said Scheifele. "Paul’s a pretty smart guy, so whatever he has in plan I’m ready to take with. When I’m back, hopefully we keep it rolling."
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
Updated on Tuesday, February 6, 2018 at 12:24 PM CST: Writethrough