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Salo hopes for a Cup after long road back

by Dan Rosen / Vancouver Canucks

Sami Salo is a walking, skating reminder of why hockey players will do just about anything to compete for a Stanley Cup.

Nobody on this Canucks' roster has been more snakebit over his career, especially his time in Vancouver, than the Canucks' 36-year-old Finnish defenseman. Nobody on this team has faced as much adversity as Salo did this summer when he suffered a ruptured Achilles, an injury that, for all intents and purposes, could have and maybe should have ended his professional hockey career.

"It's been a long journey, not just in a career way, but the whole year," Salo said Monday, one day after scoring two 5-on-3 goals that helped the Canucks to a 4-2 victory in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.

It's hard to even imagine how long and hard it really was for him this season.

Salo was playing another routine game of Thursday floor ball back in Finland on July 22 when he sprinted hard after receiving a D-to-D pass and "just flew face first," he said.

"Nobody was even close. I just fell down," the 13-year NHL veteran continued. "The Achilles had ruptured. Somebody said it sounded like a shotgun."

Salo went to a private clinic nearby and the doctor told him his Achilles was most likely completely torn. He had to undergo surgery, performed by the same doctor that operated on David Beckham's Achilles, and his career was put into jeopardy.

"It was so unclear, my future at that point," Salo said. "I knew it was going to take a long time and there was no guarantee I'd come back."

He did after going through what he called the most difficult rehab of his life.

Salo missed his offseason training, training camp and the first four months of the season.

"It is like climbing a Mount Everest, very small steps from the Day One after the surgery, all the way up to the time in December when I started skating," Salo said. "You didn't see any progress on a daily basis, even sometimes on a weekly basis."

He played three games in the American Hockey League starting Feb. 4 before finally making his NHL season debut against Calgary on Feb. 12. He logged 16 minutes and 34 seconds of ice time in a 4-2 win.

"At his age, to come back from such a serious injury, we weren't sure he was going to pull that off," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said.

Salo played in the final 27 games of the regular season and the first six games of the playoffs before an undisclosed injury kept him out for four games. Salo returned in Game 4 against Nashville and has seen his minutes steadily rise ever since. He played 48:03 in the two games in San Jose, and obviously made a huge contribution in Game 4 with his two 5-on-3 goals.

"All the blood and the sweat that you poured during the season has really paid off," Salo said. "It is a really good feeling."

Not nearly as good as the feeling will be if the Canucks can win five more games in these playoffs.

Salo has never sniffed a chance at competing for the Stanley Cup. Ten months ago it didn't look like he would ever get one.

"It would be awesome," Salo said.

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