Avalanche forward John Mitchell is fortunate that his back injury wasn't worse—a lot worse.
Mitchell was injured after he slammed, back first, squarely into the end boards during Colorado's March 18 game at Montreal. He has been out of the Avs lineup for the last four games.
"If I was going more head first or something like that, heaven forbid, who knows what could have happened," Mitchell said. "I guess I was thankful that I was able to be going in just kind of seated rather than any other way."
Mitchell skated for the first time before Monday's practice and participated in the team's morning skate Thursday before the Avs' game against the Vancouver Canucks, but he didn't take part in a full team practice until Friday at Family Sports Center.
Barring any kind of setback, head coach Patrick Roy said Mitchell is expected to be play Saturday afternoon when the Avalanche hosts the San Jose Sharks at Pepsi Center.
"It is going to be up to the training staff," Mitchell said after Friday's practice. "See how I feel. I know I felt good in practice yesterday. I felt good today in practice as well, so it might be tomorrow or it could be Tuesday… It's a really touchy, feely sort of thing with your back when you're actually bruised on the bones of your back and stuff. It's real finicky."
The injury occurred after a fairly normal hockey collision.
Mitchell was racing back into his zone trying to disrupt a shot by Lars Eller during the second period of the Montreal game but got tangled with Eller at the right circle. Both players fell to the ice, but it was Mitchell that took the major blow by sliding violently into the boards behind the Colorado net.
Clearly in pain after the hit, it took Mitchell several moments to get off the ice, but he was able to get to the locker room on his own feet—be it with some help from the Avalanche's training staff. He was taken to a local hospital for tests before being released that night.
A photo later surfaced of Mitchell resembling a folded chair when his back hit the end wall, making it even more amazing that he was able to leave the ice on his own power.
Mitchell said it was tough to put any pressure on his back after the injury, and everyday tasks such as getting out of bed or getting into a car were difficult. He said his back was bruised down the middle, but he is feeling better and that there is no more significant pain.
He is expected to return to his usual spot as the third-line center between wings Cody McLeod and Maxime Talbot for Saturday's game and may see some time on the penalty kill as well. Prior to the injury, he was also occasionally playing wing on one of the Avs' top scoring lines.
For Mitchell to possibly be playing just 11 days after the horrific injury is impressive, but it's definitely not something he wants to experience again.
"You know that only one outcome is going to happen, and that you're going to smash into the boards," Mitchell said of the collision. "It was frightening. I wouldn't wish that upon anybody."