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Overcoming obstacles

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Life has certainly thrown Zach Redmond a couple of curveballs along the way – both of which caught him off guard, but didn’t slow him down.

Zach Redmond was proud to sign a two-year contract with the Canadiens on July 1 after spending the last two seasons in the Mile High City.

At the age of 15, Redmond suffered a stroke while attending a prospects tournament in Toronto that left the right side of his body temporarily numb. He would relearn how to talk and walk again before going on to play two seasons with the USHL’s Sioux City Stampede ahead of a four-year stint with Ferris State University, located 90 miles south of his home in Traverse City, MI.

"I don't think it affected me as much as people think. It was kind of a freak thing that happened because I was healthy at the time. It was weird for a little bit, getting used to doing everything again and being in and out of the hospital for a couple of weeks. But, two weeks later I was going pretty quick. I just had to take blood thinners the rest of the summer as a precaution," said Redmond, reflecting upon the experience. 

Then, on February 21, 2013 – just eight games into his rookie year with the Winnipeg Jets – Redmond suffered a lacerated femoral artery in his right leg in Raleigh, NC when a teammate accidentally skated over his thigh after he fell to the ice during a battle drill at the morning skate.

Miraculously, after undergoing emergency surgery and plenty of rehab back home, the up-and-coming defenseman returned to skate with the Jets six weeks later, and even got a few games in with the St. John’s IceCaps – then Winnipeg’s AHL affiliate – to close out the year.

Simply put, Redmond defied all medical odds with his recovery, and he never let himself believe that his professional career was over before it even really had the chance to begin.

He would go on to play one more year in the Jets organization – primarily in the AHL – ahead of a two-year stint with the Colorado Avalanche before signing a two-year deal with the Canadiens on July 1.

While both the surgical scar and memories of the unfortunate incident remain, the 28-year-old insists that it doesn’t enter into his thinking when he’s patrolling the blue line, even if something like that would be rather difficult for anyone to put by the wayside.

“Today, it’s really like nothing happened. Mentally, I don’t think about it. Physically, it doesn’t bug me. I’ve really just turned the page on it,” said Redmond, who has gone on to play 106 NHL games in three seasons following his recovery, including 96 outings during his time in Colorado. “I’ve always stood by the idea that things happen for a reason. Why it happened, I’m still not sure. I was trying to figure out if it meant I should try something new or go a different route. But, when I got back home, I couldn’t imagine not playing hockey again. It was an easy decision to make, to do everything I could to get back.”

After overcoming his injury, Redmond was presented with the Jets' Dan Snyder Memorial Award, given to the player who embodies perseverance, dedication and hard work without reward or recognition.

Fast forward to four weeks ago as Redmond took a brand new step in his hockey journey. When the Canadiens came calling for his services as a free agent, he was eager to make things official.

“Montreal just seemed like the best fit. It was too exciting to pass up. The Canadiens have such strong support from the city. I’ve been in the league for a little while now and haven’t made the playoffs yet. To me, Montreal’s right there. With the new additions, it gets me excited already thinking about making it to the postseason,” said Redmond, who has nine goals and 33 points in 114 career NHL games, along with a plus-5 differential. “It just seems like a place where we can definitely succeed.”

With seven other defensemen already on the Canadiens’ roster – and a young gun like 2016 first-rounder Mikhail Sergachev knocking on the door – Redmond knows full well that he’ll have to be extra sharp when training camp opens in the third week of September to secure full-time employment in Montreal. It’s a familiar situation for the former seventh-round selection of the Atlanta Thrashers in 2008, who says he’ll be ready for the challenge that awaits him down the road.

“Based on the contracts I’ve signed in the past, nothing changes for me as far as my mindset. You have to be in shape, impress the staff from the start, and put your best foot forward right away. It’s something I’m used to doing. I know I can bring something to Montreal. It’s just a matter of earning the coaches’ trust,” said Redmond, who is looking forward to the opportunity to vie for a spot in his new hockey home. “I think it’s a good chance to step up and work my way in, and hopefully stay in the lineup, too. I really just want to contribute any way I can.”

Aside from goaltender Al Montoya, whom he played with in Winnipeg, Redmond will see a few more familiar faces in the locker room when he finally arrives in town. Back in his college hockey days, he went up against the likes of Michigan State University product Jeff Petry and University of Michigan players Max Pacioretty and Greg Pateryn in Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) play, a conference which was ultimately dissolved in 2013.

The West Bloomfield, MI resident will likely connect with Petry later on this week when he begins skating with a large group of NHLers training out of a local strength and conditioning facility, Barwis Methods, which caters to many professional athletes in the area. It will complement the work Redmond has already been putting in at home on a daily basis.

“I built a gym last summer in my house, so it’s working out really well. I’m able to put a lot more time in and then revisit things I want to work on,” said Redmond, who is focusing his efforts on certain areas of his body, in particular. “For me, leg strength is always huge. I focus on my lower body a lot, just trying to make sure that my stride is as powerful and fluid as possible. Off ice, I’m shooting a lot of pucks and working on stickhandling. On ice, it’s a lot of edge work and conditioning.”

Redmond is hoping to secure a roster spot in Montreal and give himself a chance to be a full-time member of the Canadiens.

A self-proclaimed hockey nerd who was a big Detroit Red Wings fan growing up, Redmond appreciates the rich history that comes with suiting up for an Original Six franchise, especially in Montreal. That, in addition to everything he’s overcome in recent years, is motivation enough to try to make this next stop as successful as he possibly can.

“To get another chance to take steps forward in my career is special. In Montreal, when you pull that gear on, I think it feels like you’re stepping back in time. I’m really hoping that this one works to where I can really establish myself as the defenseman I’ve always wanted to be,” concluded Redmond. “I certainly understand how things can get snatched away from you pretty quick, so this means a lot. Getting the chance to put my mark on the game is what excites me the most.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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