It’s odd that the veteran Panthers D-man shares a bit of trivia with a wrestler whose name conjures up images of “The End,” but it has a feeling of coming full circle: just as The Undertaker returned to his roots, Jovanovski has resurrected his career following a debilitating hip injury.
By Brian O’Neill
Here’s a little trivia tidbit to bust out at your next party: what does Florida Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski have in common with Undertaker of the WWE?
Answer: They’ve both come back after having a hip resurfaced, a relatively new procedure that’s an alternative to a hip replacement.
“Yeah,” Jovanovski says with a laugh. “I looked (into it) a little bit further knowing that he was one of the guys that had this procedure done from throwing his body around.”
Instead of having the “ball” portion of the hip replaced with a new one made of metal or ceramic, it is reshaped and has a metal prosthesis capped on top. It’s a more complex procedure that requires a larger incision than what is needed for a hip replacement, but is more suitable for younger people as it leaves more bone in tact.
It’s odd that Jovanovski shares that bit of trivia with a wrestler whose name and appearance conjure up images of “The End,” but it has a feeling of coming full circle. Just as The Undertaker returned to his roots after his “American Badass” phase, Jovanovski has resurrected his career with the same franchise that drafted him 1st overall in 1994.
By returning to action on Jan. 4, he is the first athlete from one of the four major sports to return after having the procedure.
It was only a year ago that the 37-year-old Jovanovski had hip pain so bad that he could barely bend over. He only managed to suit up in six games for the Panthers last year and there was a real possibility his career was finished.
After attempting plasma therapy in Europe, Jovanovski says he had no other options but to have the surgery, which took place April 5. He then spent the next six months rehabbing and training.
“I love this game,” he says. “This game has given me everything and I just want to be able to continue my dream as a kid growing up.”
Since coming back, he has begun to resemble the ‘Jovo’ of old. Despite all he has been through, he still is a punishing defenseman, throwing his body around in front of his net clearing traffic for goaltenders Tim Thomas and Scott Clemmensen.
That’s not to say he didn’t have any concerns.
“You’re always a little bit worried, a little bit nervous,” he says. “I think once you get a couple shifts in there you start feeling better. I think that was the case for me.”
Jovanovski underwent a readjustment period upon returning. He hadn’t played a game since March 16 and needed a little bit of time to get his legs back under him. Specifically, Jovanovski says he had to readjust to the pace of the game. The fundamentals stay the same, but he isn’t as quick as he once was.
He says every day back is a win for him. He has one goal and four points in 14 games so far this season, scoring in his 1,100-career game in a 4-3 win against the Buffalo Sabres Jan. 21.
“I have the same passion for when I started this game as I do now,” he says. “I enjoy the dressing room. I enjoy going out there. I enjoy the compete and the b.s. that comes along with it.”
As captain and a veteran player on a young Panthers squad, Jovanovski is counted on to lead by example and be a guiding voice in the dressing room. It’s a role and a rite of passage that he takes pride in. After all, he has a wealth of experience to draw from. His 76 career playoff games are a valuable commodity on a team that has only made the post-season just four times in franchise history and only once in the past 12 years. Jovanovski played in the Stanley Cup final as a Panther in 1995-96. He’s living proof that goal is possible.
Just as Jovanovski’s career restarts, the NHL is about to go on a two-week Olympic break. After almost a year of work to get back to the game he loves, he is going to take a little time off.
“I’m going to do a family trip somewhere that you would probably never guess,” he says. “It’s nothing too flashy: I’m visiting some family in Charlotte.”