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Red Wings Ericsson returns from appendectomy to resume playoffs

DETROIT - Having his appendix removed just as the Stanley Cup final was approaching was more than a pain in the side for Detroit Red Wings rookie defenceman Jonathan Ericsson.

After three seasons spent mostly with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins, the 25-year-old was finally getting a chance to play regularly in important games for the Red Wings.

But on the morning of Game 5 of the NHL Western Conference final against Chicago, Ericsson was in severe pain and knew what it was - an appendix problem that had flared up three times previously in the past three years.

He was taken to hospital, had the inflamed organ surgically removed and was back at the rink that night, although only to watch his teammates sew up a second straight trip to the Stanley Cup final.

"It was bad timing, but I needed it," Ericsson said this week. "It feels pretty good now."

Good enough that Ericsson was able to score a pivotal goal in Game 2 of the final - a 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins - after logging more than 16 minutes and going plus-1 in Game 1.

Ericsson said his appendix first flared up in 2005, just as he was about to leave Sweden to attend his first Red Wings camp. Doctors there told him his recovery time would be up to six weeks and he didn't want to miss camp, so he had it treated with medication and the problem went away.

It returned twice more after that, but not as severely and he put off having the appendix removed again.

But this time, there was no choice.

"I was in hospital in Sweden once and they were going to take it out," he said. "But in Sweden they don't have as good instruments for making the procedure as easy as here, so the healing process was going to be a month, or a month and a half, and I decided not to.

"It was time to take it out. I was sick of dealing with this. Now I don't have to worry about it again."

Quick returns from appendectomies have happened before.

While with the Montreal Canadiens in 1994, Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy missed one game while he had his appendix removed during the first round of playoffs. He returned to post a 39-save win in the next game, although the Canadiens lost the series to Boston in seven games.

Earlier this season, Detroit's Andreas Lilja missed two games after a bout of appendicitis.

But those were established NHL players. Ericsson has played only 27 career regular-season games. He got his break when Lilja was injured in March and since then has become a mainstay on the third defence pair with Brett Lebda in the playoffs.

In another organization, a six-foot-five 206-pound defenceman with Ericsson's skills would have been playing regularly in the NHL long ago. But the Red Wings bring prospects along slowly.

Coach Mike Babcock said it is a key to keeping Detroit a contender year after year.

"We've been fortunate managing the cap to keep good players in the minors long enough for them to grow up," said Babcock. "You have a better chance if you're (Ville) Leino or Ericsson and you're 25 than if you're 18 or 19.

"When you arrive in the league at 18 or 19, that means your three years (entry-level contract) are up at 21. Then you're negotiating again. We (NHL teams) overpay these players way before they earn it and that effects the next team, so we try not to do that in Detroit."

Like many of Detroit's key players, Ericsson was a diamond in the rough who has been shaped into a strong player. He was the last player selected, 291st overall, in the 2002 draft.

"We like skill and because we've been good, we've been able to be patient," said Red Wings general manager Ken Holland. "On other teams, players get rushed into action and then they get frustrated with them.

"I played nine years in the AHL and I really believe in development. It's the best league in the world for that."

Ericsson had been a forward in Sweden but was convinced to switch to defence before the draft. At either position, he wasn't getting a lot of ice time.

"We brought him over because he's six foot five and could skate and had nowhere to play," said Holland. "We said, 'Let's get him over here so we can control how much he played.'

"We brought him to Grand Rapids and the rest is history."



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