SUNRISE, Fla. – This is one anniversary Richard Zednik chose not to commemorate.
A year ago, the Florida Panthers forward left a trail of blood on the ice as he skated toward the bench. The carotid artery in his neck had been sliced by a teammate’s skate blade, just missing his jugular vein.
“I don’t like to think about it,” Zednik said Tuesday before the Panthers played the Maple Leafs at home. “I don’t want to go back and think about what could happen, what happened and stuff like that. I’m glad I’m here and I still can enjoy hockey.”
Zednik has played 42 games this season, including Tuesday night’s matchup with Toronto. He scored two goals against the Maple Leafs, including the game-winner, in a 5-4 overtime victory on the first anniversary of the frightening injury.
Midway through the third period of a game against the Buffalo Sabres last year, Olli Jokinen’s skate swung up, leaving a 1 1/2 inch cut in Zednik’s neck. Zednik felt a stabbing pain and knew he had to get to the bench. He thought of his young daughter, Ella, and wondered if he would live to see her grow.
Zednik underwent emergency surgery. He lost five pints of blood and spent a few days in a Buffalo hospital. A rose-coloured scar now runs down his neck, offering a constant reminder of the injury.
“It’s amazing,” first-year Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said. “I think when something like that happens to you, I’m sure that all kinds of things cross your mind, including whether or not you want to suit up and even get back out there again, whether it’s all worth it.”
Zednik said he is enjoying himself back out on the ice, and has recently been playing with confidence. He has eight goals this season, including a few that have come with electric, highlight-reel performances.
“He has a great skill set,” DeBoer said. “He’s got dynamic speed, he’s got real good hands. He’s capable of doing that on a team where we don’t have a lot of dynamic players.”
Zednik didn’t record a point over 16 games from Dec. 28, 2007, to Feb. 1, 2008, but the veteran right winger had six goals and three assists in the four games before the injury. He got off to a slow start this season, but has recently emerged as a key player for the Panthers.
“I think he’s been fantastic,” Panthers centre Stephen Weiss said. “He maybe started a little bit slow, took him a little while. That’s a tough thing to come back from, obviously. But Z’s a tough guy, he’s pretty strong mentally. You can see him starting to pick up from where he left off last year around this time, when he was pretty hot.”
Zednik has shown signs he has rebounded from the injury.
He held the puck while being tripped during a 5-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 29, and scored into an open net while falling. During a Feb. 5 game against the New York Islanders, Zednik carried the puck into the offensive zone, hopped over a sliding defenceman and tapped the puck between goalie Joey MacDonald’s legs as he landed.
“Fortunately, I’m still playing hockey,” Zednik said. “The team’s doing real well, so I just want to enjoy the hockey right now.”