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Oilers forward Fernando Pisani happy to stay out of spotlight in return to lineup

EDMONTON - All the hype and hoopla surrounding Sidney Crosby's first game in Edmonton commanded the spotlight, and that was just fine with Fernando Pisani.

While Crosby's debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins at a soldout Rexall Place didn't disappoint in a 4-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday, Pisani's latest step in a compelling comeback from a bout of career-threatening ulcerative colitis went almost unnoticed.

Pisani played his first home game with the Oilers since last March - a game the soft-spoken 30-year-old and those who know him feared might never come just two months ago.

His story is one of quiet courage.

"I'm fine with the spotlight on the other team," said Pisani, who played just over 17 minutes against the Penguins. "I prefer it that way because I just like to focus on playing my game and on kind of getting back into the swing of things."

Diagnosed with ulcerative colitis - inflammation and ulcers of the colon - in 2005, Pisani played with it during the Oilers run to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup final, leading playoff scorers with 14 goals. He did likewise last season.

But the condition worsened last summer and Pisani lost 30 pounds in three weeks. He was too weak to walk a flight of stairs without stopping to rest and had to be hospitalized for weeks. He faced what would have been career-ending surgery.

By the time the Oilers made Pisani's plight public in early September, the hope was he'd recover enough to lead a normal life as a husband and father. Resuming his NHL career was an afterthought.

"I had to stay in bed," said Pisani. "I couldn't do anything. It was no way to live. Everybody says, 'Stay positive. You'll get through this,' but there were times when it was just ugly.

"Ultimately, your health is the first thing, but nobody ever wants to hear that you might not be able to play again. This is my livelihood. This is what I've done since I was four years old. To think it might be taken away from you is a scary thing."

Even when Pisani turned the corner in late September and avoided surgery with intensive drug therapy, the prognosis was that it would take most of this season for him to recover to the point where he'd be physically capable of playing again.

"When he was 30 pounds down, I thought no way," teammate Shawn Horcoff said of Pisani's chances of returning.

In a stunning turnaround, Pisani was skating on his own the first week of November and was near his playing weight of 205 pounds after pushing himself to the limit in the workout room.

When Ales Hemsky and Geoff Sanderson went down with injuries before a road trip to Anaheim and Los Angeles Dec. 2-3, Pisani made his return. He played 12:43 against the Ducks and 13:26 against the Kings.

No goals. No points. Lots of smiles.

"You don't have a choice," said Horcoff. "You either fight it to the point where you're going to save yourself or you give up. We all know Pies, and we knew that wasn't an option.

"He always said surgery was not an option for him. As close as the doctors said he was, in his mind it wasn't. He was going to keep trying things until they found something that would work and allow him to play. That shows you his will. The guy is a fighter."

While Pisani's comeback will certainly make him a candidate for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy - awarded for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey - his battle with the disease continues.

"There's always a possibility," Pisani said of the potential for a setback. "You can't say it's never going to happen again. I don't know, but I'm not going to worry about it.

"I'm going to go out and live my life accordingly. I'm not going to worry about what could happen again. That's no way to live. I just want to put everything that happened behind me."

Crosby's visit Wednesday coincided with Pisani's 271st NHL game.

Sid the Kid will be back. Pisani already is.

"It feels good," said Pisani. "Really good."



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