Minor Miracles

13Apr07

Will he or won’t he? For Sharks and Predators, that’s the burning question surrounding the return of Jonathan Cheechoo — though, obviously, for different reasons. Ron Wilson said that Cheechoo wanted to return to the overtime of game 1. Is that true? Is he bluffing?

Everyone’s initial thought was yes. Hockey observers, from mullet-head Barry Melrose to Joe Fan sitting on the couch, thought the absolute worst. You don’t just bend your knee like that and get up about your day.

Still, here’s Cheechoo walking around without crutches and without a brace, just a heavily bandaged knee and a limp. What’s possible?

“I haven’t ruled myself out,” Cheechoo said Thursday night. “If I wake up and feel better – magically – then I’ll play.”

Is Cheechoo nuts or tough? Well, what we can tell from this is that he’s not done for the playoffs, if not the series. Other players have played, to varying degrees of effectiveness, on insane injuries. Injuries, schminjuries — this is the gosh darn playoffs. As a great hockey commentator once said, “He’s tough; he’s a hockey player.” Consider these extreme examples of coming back early from injuries:

Erik Cole returns from a broken neck to play in games 6 and 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. On his first shift, Cole takes a nasty hit into the boards and everyone that wasn’t an Oiler fan (and maybe even a few of those) held their breath to make sure Cole would get up. To his credit, Cole got up and threw a few hits of his own. Sure, he was fairly ineffective in game 6, but he was involved in critical plays in game 7 and rightly had his name engraved on the Stanley Cup.

Jeremy Roenick made friends with Derian Hatcher after JR ran Mike Modano in a twisted Team USA lovefest. Hatcher’s elbow met Roenick’s jaw and lots of stuff was shattered, all captured in its glory by the Phoenix Coyotes TV broadcast, including the trainer moving JR’s jaw in a “holy crap, that’s broken” way. Hockey players are known to be tough, but what JR decided to do borderlines on the insane factor. No wired-shut jaw for Roenick; no, that’d mean a liquid diet that would derail his fitness. Instead, Roenick told the dentist to make some room by cutting out his bottom teeth, then support the whole thing with rubber bands so he could eat. Wearing a football-style helmet to protect his jaw, JR played in game 7 vs. St. Louis — a 1-0 overtime loss of a Pierre Turgeon tip.

Brett Hull‘s infamous skate-in-the-crease incident should be noted for one thing besides the fact that Hull was possibly cheating. Earlier in the series, Hull was taken out of the lineup for a torn MCL and a torn groin. Yes, a torn MCL — as in, the injury where you’re usually out for at least a month. Wearing braces similar to RoboCop’s armor, Hull managed to skate in game 6 and score the biggest — and most infamous — goal of his career.

In a lot of ways, Cheechoo’s situation is similar to Hull’s. Sure, we don’t know the results of the MRI yet, but we know that it’s a knee injury. Cheechoo is scrappier than Hull, but the basis of their game is similar: find an open spot, wait for the pass, and shoot really, really hard. If this was, say, Milan Michalek or Patrick Marleau, a knee injury like this would be far more devastating because those players base their game on speed. Cheechoo, however, will never be compared to Scott Niedermayer when talking about his skating skills. So, if he can get enough strength and movement where he can battle on the boards and fight off defensemen to move around in the high slot area, well, the Nashville Predators may not have seen the last of Cheechoo.

Of course, it IS the playoffs, and that means that anything is possible. Cheechoo could have dislocated a vertebrae on his fall or some other bizarre tangential twist and we’d never know until the season is over. Until then, we’ll go with “day-to-day lower body injury.”

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