Joey Hishon’s first NHL goal—scored in the Colorado Avalanche’s 3-2 win over the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night—meant a lot more than just a framed puck with the date on it to hang over his fireplace.
Plagued by multiple injuries throughout his young career with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League, and several more with the Colorado Avalanche’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, Hishon was finally able to achieve what he has worked so hard for.
“We know he has put a lot of hard work in, and obviously he has had a few rough years with injuries and whatnot,” said Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog, who splashed a full bottle of water in Hishon’s face as he came by the bench after his goal to share ‘knucks’ with his teammates. “But he's worked hard, and I think for every game he plays he is getting more and more comfortable, making plays out there and tonight, a great goal."
Hishon’s first NHL tally was a long-awaited reward for the young hockey player who has suffered at least one ailment per season since his career in the OHL began at age 16. In contrast to how that sounds, the Stratford, Ontario native’s career stats would never depict his struggles.
Hishon played with Owen Sound from 2007-2011 and had 110 goals and 255 points in 214 games with the Attack. He skated in 63 contests during his first OHL season and led all the rookies in goals (20) and assists (27). The next year, he advanced to the team-lead with 81 points (37 goals, 44 assists) and was voted “Best Playmaker” and “Best Stickhandler” by league coaches. In the 2010-11 campaign, he was named to the OHL’s First All-Star Team after recording 87 points (37 goals, 50 assists) in 50 games.
One would never know from simply looking at his impressive stats and honorable nominations that Hishon had roughed through numerous setbacks that challenged his physical and mental strength every day.
He overcame a hip-flexor ailment, a fractured foot and a knee sprain that sidelined him for half of the 2009-10 season, a hand injury endured during Avalanche training camp in 2010-11 causing him to miss the first six games of the OHL season and one of the worst and most difficult injuries an athlete can face: a severe concussion.
His concussion was the result of a forceful elbow to his head by Brayden McNabb, who was playing for the Kootenay Ice at the time, during the Attack’s first game of the Memorial Cup in May 2011. Hishon’s first concussion was the beginning of a lengthy recovery period for the young hockey player.
For nearly 22 months after the incident, he battled with intense neck pain, constant headaches and unpredictable dizziness—from May 2011 to March 2013—while McNabb served only a one game suspension. Hishon’s symptoms were so extreme that he was limited from even stepping foot in a gym just to be able to keep his fitness up to speed for 10 months.
The grim injury paused his life in hockey for a full season, but he was still looking forward to playing his favorite sport. He had signed an entry-level deal with the Avalanche on March 14, just two months before the incident.
After his two-year recovery, Hishon played in nine games for the Monsters in 2012-13, registering a goal and five assists during his first AHL appearance.
But another string of bad luck with injuries would soon follow.
During the 2013-14 season, he missed 26 games due to several maladies including a groin strain, elbow ailment and various other injuries. Yet, he still managed 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 50 games for Lake Erie that season.
Continuing his resilience, he made his NHL debut on April 24, 2014 with the Colorado Avalanche during Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Minnesota Wild. Hishon became the first player in franchise history to make his NHL debut in the postseason since Randy Moller in 1981-82, and the only player in the history of the club to ever do it coming from another professional league.
The 23-year-old had 14 goals and 18 assists in 50 games for the Monsters this season before being called up to Colorado on March 2. After his first practice with Avalanche on March 3, he reflected on the condition of his health.
"This summer, I really focused on my nutrition and training a lot more than in any other year, and it's really paid off," said Hishon. "I've had my best year in a pro season, health wise. I think it definitely has stuff to do with my physical strength and whatnot. Playing against older guys, everyone is so much stronger and you have to stay on top of that."
Hishon has played in 11 games in a Colorado jersey since then, and scored the game-winning goal against Nashville last night.
"I saw it go in and then I completely blacked out. I don't know if it had sunk in. I don't know if it has sunk in yet. My adrenaline was pumping for the rest of the game there,” Hishon said of the play. “I was trying not to smile. We got the win now so I'm allowed to smile I think."
No matter the injuries or challenges he has faced, Hishon has found the strength to keep pushing on. Tuesday night’s accomplishment was purely symbolic of his persistence and dedication to his love of hockey, and he doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.
"After everything I went through the last few years, I think it means even more to me,” Hishon said after the victory over the Predators. “It was a pretty special moment.
“To finally get that one, it’s a great feeling. I have to build on it.”