When Ducks PA announcer Phil Hulett bellows out the names of the six Ducks starters minutes before the opening faceoff, the loudest roars from the home crowd are typically reserved for the likes of Teemu Selanne
, Bobby Ryan
or Jonas Hiller
. Last night, before the Ducks took on Phoenix at Honda Center, the loudest cheer came for the announcement of a different name – Joffrey Lupul.
And for good reason. Lupul was playing his first game in a Ducks uniform in 362 days, after he shut it down last December 8 with a herniated disk that required two different surgeries. He developed a debilitating blood infection after the second one, requiring a daily IV at one point and keeping him bedridden for almost two months.
It was a devastating circumstance for the 27-year-old Lupul that some said might jeopardize his career, something he said he tried not to ever let enter his mind. “There was a lot of uncertainty, but I think I did a pretty good job the entire time of keeping a positive attitude,” Lupul said. “You’re never going to recover and get back to where you want to be if you’re filling your head with negative thoughts of Why did this happen? or Why me? Some things happen and people have adversity. You just deal with it and move forward.”
The payoff of Lupul’s hard climb back – which included a three-game rehab stint with AHL Syracuse a week ago – was last night’s game. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” Lupul said. “Beforehand, I wasn’t sure of how I would feel out there, but once the game started, it was just kind of hockey as usual. Things just kind of fell into place. There is a lot to think about out there.”
|“The last couple of months, I’ve been doing nothing but training and practicing and you just want to get out there so badly. I was just excited to be out there able to compete and be in front of a crowd, and all of that stuff you miss so much. ” |
Lupul played 14 minutes, 28 seconds last night, during which coach Randy Carlyle noticed he was understandably a little winded. “I saw him huffing and puffing coming back to the bench a couple of times,” said Carlyle, who made it a point to insert Lupul into the starting lineup to get him into the game early. “Overall, I saw his performance as a plus. Loops is a shooter and he shot the puck.”
Shot it three times, in fact, including a quick wrister from the slot with just under 12 minutes to go in the game that goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was fortunate to stop
“It kind of just went into his glove,” Carlyle said. “I don’t even think he saw it coming. More often than not, Loops scores in that situation.”
It was certainly a goal the Ducks could have used, as they got nothing past Bryzgalov all night in a 3-0 loss to the Coyotes. “It would have been nice to get a goal in that game,” Lupul said. “We just didn’t execute the way we wanted to last night. We didn’t even have a time when we started gaining some momentum. That’s just one of those games we have to kind of bury and just forget about it.”
Win or lose, it was a successful night for Lupul personally, just in the fact he was able to be out there after so long. “I’m happy to have that first one out of the way,” he said. “The last couple of months, I’ve been doing nothing but training and practicing and you just want to get out there so badly. I was just excited to be out there able to compete and be in front of a crowd, and all of that stuff you miss so much. ”
For Ducks fans who hadn’t watched him play for nearly a year, they saw a slightly different Lupul, who changed his uniform number to 19 after wearing 14 last year. (Ryan Whitney had 19 last year when Lupul returned to the Ducks in a summer trade with Philadelphia.) “Nothing sentimental or anything,” he said. “I just like that number better and I switched.”
|“Beforehand, I wasn’t sure of how I would feel out there, but once the game started, it was just kind of hockey as usual. Things just kind of fell into place. There is a lot to think about out there.” |
It’s understandable if Lupul wanted to get away from a number he wore during what was mostly a lost season (just 23 games in which he still managed 10 goals). Last night was his first step in getting his career back on track. “Now,” he said, “I’m happy to have this first game out of the way and I can just hopefully not mention it again. I know it’s going to be a topic that a lot of people want to talk about. I just want to be a player just like I was before.”
But there is still the matter of getting back into the same game shape he was at before. “I’m not 100 percent yet,” he said, “and I still have a lot of work to do in the weight room, in practice and in games. I hope I’ll be there soon.
One of those practices came today, after which Lupul and the Ducks headed to the airport for a two-game swing through Canada that starts in Edmonton tomorrow. It’s another meaningful game for Lupul, who grew up near Edmonton and played one season with the Oilers after the Ducks traded him in 2006 in a deal that brought Chris Pronger to Anaheim.
“It’s always nice to go back and play in front of friends and family,” said Lupul, who estimates there will be 20 or 30 of his people at Rexall Place. “It will be fun to have my parents and my brothers there, to see my old buddies from high school, things like that.
“It will be another emotional game, because a lot of people have been waiting a long time to see me play.”