For many NHL players, working out during the summer and getting ready for training camp is just part of the job. Not so for Florida Panthers forward Richard Zednik. To Zednik, getting back on the ice represents much more: a chance to move on.
Seven months ago, during a game against the Buffalo Sabres, Zednik nearly died after a carotid artery in his neck was accidentally severed by the skate of teammate Olli Jokinen.
After returning to Florida from his home in Slovakia, Zednik was back on the ice on Tuesday skating with his teammates as part of their daily informal workouts.
"I'm here just trying to get ready and get going," Zednik told the Miami Herald. "It's been nice to get home, settle in and come here to the rink to see the guys again. I've been going all summer, working hard just looking forward to the season. I feel good, I feel comfortable. That's important. I'm excited."
The image of Zednik clutching his neck as he skated back to the bench is a hard one to forget. It retrospect, few realized how close he came to losing his life.
"He really came as close to dying as one could," said Dr. McCormack, one of the first to greet Zednik at the Buffalo General Hospital emergency room. "Some of that gets lost after the event, once you know he's all right. There were a number of grave threats to his life. He lost a tremendous amount of blood. . . . He could have died at any moment."
Zednik spent a week in hospital, before returning to Florida. It's a time, no doubt, that Zednik would like to put behind him. But a visible scar running down the right side of his neck will serve as a reminder to him and others of what happened.
"I just want to get back to playing, to being a leader on the ice," Zednik said. "I don't want people asking me about this all year. We'll do something before the season. We'll make a tape or something for everyone. I don't want to think about it. I want to play hockey. I don't want what happened in my mind."
At practice, Zednik was wearing a Kevlar-based neck protector - making Zednik a member of a small group of NHLers that sport neck protection.
"It feels good, it doesn't bother me at all," Zednik said. "Everything feels good right now."