Two weeks after suffering a terrifying concussion that knocked
him out cold last April, Montreal Canadiens winger Richard Zednik
returned to the Molson Centre for the first time. Sitting in the
press box, he watched the start of Game 4 of the Canadiens'
second-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes and thought,
This is a great crowd tonight. I've never heard it this loud. But
as noise from the fans and the blaring sound system echoed in his
head, it dawned on Zednik that his injury wasn't healing as fast
as he'd hoped. Even tapping his fingers on the table produced a
loud sound, and by the third period Zednik was tired and woozy
and beginning to suspect that Montreal, which was leading the
series 2-1, would have to finish the playoffs without him. The
Canadiens, who lost Game 4 in overtime, began a dizzying tailspin
of their own and were ousted by the eventual Eastern Conference
champions in six games.
Zednik, 26, was one of several of the league's more talented
players who suffered serious injuries last spring. After putting
together career highs in games played (82), goals (22) and points
(44), and helping Montreal reach the playoffs for the first time
since 1998, Zednik was enjoying the finest stretch of his
five-year NHL career when the postseason began. Then, with a
minute left in Game 4 of Montreal's opening-round series against
the Boston Bruins, defenseman Kyle McLaren clotheslined Zednik as
he stickhandled across the blue line, knocking him cold with an
elbow. Zednik, who lay unconscious for five minutes, was taken
off the ice on a stretcher and rushed to Montreal General
Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a concussion, a broken nose
and lacerations on his throat and near his eye.
"I thought I had gotten by McLaren," Zednik says. "Until I saw
the video, I thought someone else had hit me." He remembers
nothing of the hit and little of his two days in the hospital.
The NHL suspended McLaren for the rest of the series. After the
incident McLaren said the hit was not intentional and that he
wished Zednik a speedy return to health. Zednik has not spoken
with McLaren but says he holds no grudge.
Zednik's recovery was slow, however. In May he struggled with a
routine postconcussion test in which he was shown a series of 10
words and pictures and asked to recall their order.
In July, after faring better on subsequent tests, he resumed
light workouts and cross-training, though he still suffered
headaches during bike rides. By August he was pronounced fit.
As the Canadiens opened training camp in Vail, Colo., last week,
Zednik was unsigned but close to agreement on a two-year
contract. The team needs him. Montreal has gone four seasons
without a 30-goal scorer, and few of its smallish, skilled
forwards (Saku Koivu, Yanic Perreault, Oleg Petrov or off-season
acquisition Mariusz Czerkawski) go to the net with abandon. Last
year the 6-foot, 200-pound Zednik was using his bulk to muscle
his way to the slot--something he's eager to get back to doing.
"I had so much confidence at the end of the season, and it kills
me not to be in camp," he says. "I really want to finish what I
COLOR PHOTO: PAUL CHIASSON/AP (INSET) DOWN AND OUT Zednik (left) didn't fully recover from McLaren's hit until last month.
COLOR PHOTO: JIM DAVIS/THE BOSTON GLOBE/CP [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: JIM MCISAAC/BRUCE BENNETT STUDIOS (LEMIEUX) Mario Lemieux
Besides Richard Zednik, other prominent NHL players suffered
serious injuries that cut short their 2001-02 seasons or
required major surgery in the off-season. Here was their
condition as training camps opened last weekend.
POS. PLAYER, TEAM
LW John LeClair, Flyers
Herniated disk removed Skating; ready to start season
C Mario Lemieux, Penguins
Back and hip strain Skating; ready to start season
C Michael Peca, Islanders
Torn left ACL Out until December
D Chris Pronger, Blues
Torn right ACL Out until January
G Mike Richter, Rangers
Skull fracture Skating; ready to start season
LW Gary Roberts, Maple Leafs
Two shoulder operations Out until February
C Martin Straka, Penguins
Compressed vertebra Out until November
C Steve Yzerman, Red Wings
Right knee surgery Out until December