BROSSARD -- If there's one Hab who knows how lucky he is to play hockey for a living, it's Zach Redmond.
The 28-year-old defenseman was once again slowed down by injury this season -- he suffered a fractured foot at the end of training camp -- and had to wait until December 8 to make his Canadiens debut.
Redmond was forced to be patient before showing his new teammates and fans what he's capable of, but he's never stopped appreciating every opportunity he has to hit the ice. Not just because it's every hockey player's dream to play in the NHL, but also because he knows how close he's come not one, but twice, to never being able to suit up again.
At the age of 15, Redmond suffered a transient ischemic attack stroke that initially left him unable to walk or speak. A decade later, a laceration to his right femoral artery almost cost him his life after he was seriously cut by a teammate's skate in 2013.
Rather than being discouraged by those serious setbacks, Redmond instead found motivation.
"It's crazy how the human body works -- or doesn't. I had to re-learn how to walk, talk, and write. The toughest part was returning home and not being able to do anything for myself besides sit around," recalled the Traverse City, MI native, who this year wasted no time picking up his first assist in his delayed Habs debut.
"Stickhandling after that incident came as a shocker. I had to teach myself how to physically do everything over again, even though I hadn't forgotten in my mind."
At the time, all Redmond wanted was to return to the ice -- and to his old self. But he knew he would have to work harder than ever to realize his goal, and he found out how important it is to make the most of life along the way.
"It's the kind thing that changes you. I can't say yet that the first accident is the reason I'm here today, because at the time it was a huge step backwards for me," shared Redmond. "But I was always a motivated kid. It taught me that life is precious, and how special it is that I get to play hockey for a living. I've always had the motivation in me, but the accidents added a little perspective."
For years, Redmond had to live with discomfort in his left leg stemming from the second horrific on-ice injury he later suffered with the Jets.
"I felt like something wasn't normal, but I didn't want to say anything at first. After all, my livelihood was on the line," continued the 6-foot-2, 208-pounder. "Luckily, eventually everything went back to normal."
It was a teammate in Winnipeg, Anthony Peluso, and coach Perry Pearn, who saved Redmond's life at PNC Arena. The former quickly put pressure on his leg while the latter used his jacket to stop the bleeding. Moments later they were in an ambulance en route to the emergency room.
"I'm honestly blessed that things happened the way they did. Without getting dramatic, they really are the reason I'm still here today," underlined Redmond. "But when you have two near-death experiences playing hockey, you start to question your career choices a little. There was a brief period when I couldn't help but hang my head and think maybe I wasn't cut out for this, although those thoughts lasted all of a handful of days. I love hockey too much."
Now midway through his first season in Montreal, Redmond's injuries are behind him and he's finally hitting his stride.
In fact, he feels this is the healthiest he's ever been.
"This is a new chapter in my career," concluded the fifth-year blue-liner. "I feel like a new man on my skates, and I'm privleged to be part of a great team."