The boy who quit hockey wants to play again.
Stefan Legein, the Columbus Blue Jackets' 2007 second-round pick who won a gold medal for Canada at the World Junior Championship and then walked away from his chance to play in the NHL this season, is coming back to the game.
''I am planning to go to Columbus at the beginning of January and from there I hope to be going to Syracuse (of the American League),'' Legein told TSN. ''That's the plan. I am looking forward to it. It's time.''
Legein has been skating for the last few weeks with the St. Catharines Falcons of the Golden Horseshoe Junior League and on Monday will begin working out with the Brampton Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League. He will do that for a few weeks, spend Christmas and New Year's with his family at home in Oakville, Ont., and then head off to Columbus to become a hockey player again.
''That appears to be his intention,'' Columbus general manager Scott Howson told TSN. ''I got a phone call from Stef about 10 days ago and he told me wants to play again but he wants to get in shape first. We have no problem with that so long as he's fully committed. It's got to be all in for Stef. It can't be because he's running out of things to do with his time. It can't be because he's running out of money. It has to be because he wants to be a professional hockey player.''
It was one of the most curious, albeit compelling, hockey stories of the year.
It was the Canadian Dream gone wrong.
A talented 19-year-old with outstanding prospects of playing in the NHL and making lots of money just walks away from the game. In this country, it was a move that, for many, defied comprehension. Now, though, the hunger has returned. He said he wants to play again.
''I missed it,'' Legein said, who turned 20 on Nov. 24. I don't have any regrets about what I did, but I know I want to play now. I feel good about it. I'm getting back in shape. I have a ways to go yet, we'll see how it goes, but I want to play. There are no doubts in my mind any more. This is what I want.''
In the summer, though, that wasn't the case. Legein thought about the prospect of going to the Blue Jackets' training camp and simply decided he wasn't mentally or emotionally prepared for that.
''Really, I just lost my desire to play hockey,'' Legein said. ''It started to happen after the (2008) World Junior Championship. I hurt my shoulder and I couldn't play for three months. It was during that time I just sort of lost my passion to play. I just got away from the game and I didn't feel great about coming back.''
Legein returned for the final five games of the OHL regular season. He played, and produced extremely well (seven goals and 18 points in 10 games for the Niagara Ice Dogs) in the OHL playoffs. He even went to Syracuse and played two games there for the Crunch before asking if he could go home. He was tormented by his feelings. He didn't want to play hockey any more. By the time the end of the summer rolled around, he didn't feel any different. He didn't want to go to the Blue Jacket training camp. He just wanted to shut it down. Retire. At age 19.
And that is precisely what he did.
It was a shocking decision on so many levels. To the Blue Jackets. His friends. His family.
It was, for so many, incomprehensible. How could a 19-year-old with that talent, those prospects, kiss it all goodbye?
The decision sparked a lot of talk. Legein heard it all.
There were suggestions his girlfriend Ali was behind it.
There were rumors of drug problems.
None of it, Legein maintained, was true.
''I didn't mind people saying things about me because it was my decision and I could handle that,'' Legein said. ''But my girlfriend didn't deserve that. She wasn't the reason I quit. I heard people say it was because she was pregnant. That wasn't true. I heard people say I had a drug problem. That's not true. It sucked for my family to have to hear all of that. It wasn't fair to the people around me, my family. That part of it bothered me because they didn't deserve that.''
Legein said he was supported throughout the difficult times by Ali, who is still his girlfriend, and his parents, Chris and Christine, his older brother Tyler and his younger brother Jake. He said he needed some financial support from his parents but that he also enjoyed moral support that was invaluable.
Asked if he lost any friends as a result of his decision to walk away from the game, Legein responded: ''I didn't lose any friends. I may have lost some people along the away. But if I lost them, they weren't friends to begin with, if that's all our friendship was worth. That's behind me now. It's time to look ahead.''
To January. To a resumption of his hockey career that appeared so promising.
''We'll see how it goes,'' Legein said. ''I've got to get in better shape. It may take awhile but I want to play again. I know that now.''
And how might he be received by the Blue Jackets?
''As long as he's serious about it,'' Howson said, ''we think it's great. I don't begrudge the decision he made. If a player doesn't have the passion to play for whatever reason, he can't do this for a living. It's too hard if you're not committed to it and he couldn't do that. That's fair. I respect that but now it has to be there.
''He was a pretty good prospect,'' Howson added with an emphasis on the past tense, suggesting though he could be that again. ''Now he has to prove it. He didn't work out all summer. He hasn't played a game in a long time. He's got some work ahead of him. But if he's serious about it, that's great. Based on what we saw in junior, at the world juniors, he's a player who could have a career (in the NHL). If this is what he wants, we support it and look forward to it.''