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Save Of A Lifetime

IMPROVED His record for the Wheeling Nailers to 7-1-1, goalie Joe
Exter, who suffered a near-fatal skull fracture in a Hockey East
playoff game for Merrimack last March (SI, March 24, 2003). Exter
collided with Boston College's Patrick Eaves and hit his head on
the ice, which caused his brain to swell. Doctors put him in a
medically induced coma for 10 days and expressed doubt that he
would ever play hockey again. Yet Exter, 25, who was an NHL
prospect before the accident, says that he "never gave up on the
dream of playing at the highest level." In April he completed a
physical rehabilitation program in a week--most patients take
six. By August he was skating on Merrimack's rink.

When doctors cleared Exter to play at the start of the 2003-04
season, he received limited interest from pro teams. But Greg
Malone, a scout for the Penguins--who had been looking at Exter
before his injury--recommended that the team give him a shot.
After Exter passed a battery of mental and physical tests, the
Penguins' AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., signed him on Dec.
24 and sent him to Wheeling of the ECHL. Despite Exter's late
start, "his technique has improved with every game," says Nailers
coach Pat Bingham. "If a coma doesn't stop this kid from reaching
his goals, I can't imagine what will." If Exter, who has a 2.20
goals-against average, appears in at least two more games,
Wilkes-Barre is contractually obligated to re-sign him for next
season. But Malone says that if Exter continues to play well, he
could earn an invitation to Pittsburgh's training camp in
September. The goalie welcomes the challenge. "This experience
taught me that the only thing you control is your work ethic,"
says Exter. "I wouldn't wish that hit upon anybody, but if what
I'm doing inspires one person, that's a kind of blessing."

--Kelley King

COLOR PHOTO: BOSTON COLLEGE (EXTER INJURED) LOOKING UP A year after his accident (below), Exter is trying toplay his way into the NHL.