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Odelein: 'Everything is going super well'

After undergoing transplant surgery and battling through a lengthy recovery, Lyle Odelein is loving life in Western Pennsylvania

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL / canadiens.com

MONTREAL - Lyle Odelein is one proud Pittsburgher.

It was there that the former Canadiens defenseman hung up his skates in 2006 and chose to settle down with his wife, Laurel.

It's also where Odelein befriended Dr. Ngoc Thai long before the nationally recognized transplant surgeon would ultimately help to save his life at the Allegheny General Hospital. 

Back in March 2018, Odelein contracted a blood infection that ravaged his entire body. When antibiotics failed, he underwent a simultaneous triple transplant of the aortic valve, liver and kidney in a span of just 24 hours. 

According to the Allegheny General Hospital, the procedure was the first of its kind ever performed in Western Pennsylvania. It offered Odelein a five percent chance of survival.

Fast forward to December 2019, and we're pleased to report that the 1993 Stanley Cup champion is doing just fine.

"Everything is going super well. I went for a checkup again last week, and all the numbers were perfect," said Odelein, 51, who resides in the Pittsburgh suburb of Fox Chapel. "I was told I didn't have to come back for six months, but I still go once a month now because things can happen over time. I want to always make sure that I'm on the right path."

He certainly is, but getting to this point in his recovery wasn't easy. There were plenty of ups and downs along the way.

"It was close. It really could've gone either way. They even called my whole family in and told them to say their goodbyes," recounted Odelein. "Being in a coma for six weeks was tough, and then there was learning how to walk again and all the physical therapy. It was a really tough road, but it was definitely worth it."

Odelein's doctors, loved ones and friends all played an integral part in his extensive healing process. He can't say enough good things about his support system, which essentially spanned all across North America.

But his better half gets extra special credit.

"If I didn't have a wife like that, I wouldn't be here today," praised Odelein, a proud father of six - four girls and two boys ranging in age from 17 to 31. "I can't thank Dr. Thai, Dr. Stephen Bailey, and the rest of the medical staff enough. What a wonderful place Pittsburgh is, and the support I've had throughout from a lot of the general managers - from Craig Patrick to Serge Savard to Lou Lamoriello. I got calls from a lot of people in the hockey world. That really meant a lot to me."

Former teammates aplenty kept in close contact with Odelein, too. From Kirk Muller to Mike Keane to J.J. Daigneault, the list goes on and on.

Even Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux reached out with an open invitation to the owners' box at PPG Paints Arena whenever he's up for it.

But his longstanding relationship with Savard, in particular, always brings a smile to his face. 

"He's like a father to me. I idolize the guy," said Odelein, a seventh-round selection by Savard - 141st overall - in the 1986 NHL Draft. "He's one of the best guys in the world you'll ever meet. I always had so much respect for him. He's a wonderful man."

Time spent with Savard is one of many, many good recollections the Quill Lake, SK native has from his time in Montreal. He played 420 regular-season games for the CH between 1989 and 1996, and made 52 postseason appearances along the way.

"My best years were in Montreal. I was drafted there, won the Cup there. They're always my best memories, and it's the most special place I ever played," mentioned Odelein, who registered 20 goals and 95 points with the Canadiens, and also compiled the second-most penalty minutes in franchise history behind Chris Nilan with 1,367. "I still root for them all the time. I was the first captain of the Blue Jackets, but wearing a letter in Montreal was 'Wow!'"

Learning the tricks of the defensive trade under the tutelage of Hall of Famer Jacques Laperriere also had a profound impact on him.

"He made me the player I was. Nobody more than Lappy. He worked with me every day after practice probably for a good 25 minutes. We would be on the ice working on positioning and taking the pass away so the goaltender could make the save. We focused on the little things that would become big things," explained Odelein. "One year I even led the team in plus-minus. I was a tough guy, and then all of a sudden I'm playing in the 1996 World Cup."

While Odelein's love for the first of eight NHL cities he'd represent is plain to see, the Steel City is officially home.

He's been there for a decade-and-a-half already.

"It's just a great city to live in and the people are friendly. When I played here, I got close to a lot of people. It's been wonderful," said Odelein, who owns over 50 Supercuts locations throughout Pennsylvania, and one in Lake Tahoe. "My wife and I could live anywhere we want, and we chose Pittsburgh. I'm really thrilled to be here."

Nevertheless, Odelein is planning another trip north of the border soon.

"It's always fun to go back to Montreal," concluded Odelein. "After Christmas, we'll come up and catch a game."

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