ANAHEIM, CA -- Derek Grant has had plenty of ups.
He might not have expected Monday’s six week ago.
Not after breaking his jaw in February.
“I think I was playing well and unfortunately took that injury,” said Grant, who marked his return to NHL action with an assist -- his first point with the Flames -- in Calgary’s 5-2 win at the Arizona Coyotes on Monday.
“Obviously it’s frustrating. At first, I was told that my season was probably done so that was tough news. But after getting a second look, it looked a lot better. I was able to get back quickly. They did a great job down there, getting me back into game shape so I could play right away. I haven’t looked back since.”
The first look wasn’t good news.
Getting set to play in Bakersfield in early February, Grant -- the American Hockey League’s third-leading goal-scorer at 27 in 36 games -- was hit in the face with the puck in practice.
Two different dentists saw multiple fractures and assumed surgery and a wire would follow, which would’ve landed Grant a three-month recovery time.
Season over, right?
“My initial reaction to the news was pretty rough. You’re put in place where you find out your season is probably over,” Grant said. “I was probably playing my best hockey I had been playing up to that point. It was tough. My mom flew down when I met with the surgeon, because she figured I’d be going into surgery and she’d have to take care of her boy. The surgeon gave us great news after he looked at everything, checked everything over.
“He said potentially we could do the surgery but there’s probably more risk than reward with that because of the way the break was. It wasn’t directly affecting my bite. It was a little bit off but everything just shifted back to normal. I had a couple gaps in my teeth that closed pretty quickly. Everything healed properly.”
A steady diet of liquids and an eventual upgrade to mashed solids had Grant ready to return in around six weeks time, and, eventually, ready to return to the Flames alongside fellow recalls Hunter Shinkaruk, Emile Poirier and Brett Kulak.
“I was playing before I was eating full meals,” he said. “I was able to be creative and learn some new cooking techniques for sure. I was fortunate it wasn’t wired, for sure.”
The injury not only cost Grant some time in the AHL, but might’ve some in the NHL, too.
The 25-year-old was next in line to earn a trip to Calgary, his second of the season, before going down to injury.
“One injury away from that,” Flames coach Bob Hartley said. “It was awful timing. He has big size and he has played really well for us.
“I really liked what he’s shown us when he was with us. I’m trying to give him time now to get back in gear. His injury really set him back, but since his return to Stockton he’s been on fire. He’s been a very good player for us, over there with the Heat. It’s a matter of getting back in the groove. It’s unfortunate that we don’t have plenty of games left, but we will get him plenty of ice time to feel good.”
The initial low, followed by six weeks of recovery, gave way to a call-up Monday.
And, including his skate in Arizona, Grant will get up to seven bonus games with the Flames this season.
It isn’t a lot, but it’s enough for the pending free agent.
“Whenever you’re playing at the top of your game and opportunities seem to be there, it’s that time of year where things can happen with trade deadline and stuff, I think it was probably a little bit extra frustrating,” Grant said. “You just want to be back playing and you don’t really want to see your season end at the start of February.
“I was just excited when I got that news. I did a lot of work trying to get back into game shape before I was actually cleared to play so that way I could step right in and play as soon as I was cleared. I was on the ice quite a bit. I guess that’s the good thing about a jaw, you can still skate for the most part. Once I was able to do workouts and stuff, I was able to get skating. It was pretty easy to get back.”
Now back, Grant is looking forward to some extra time.
And to make the most of his second chance.
“When you come up, especially at this time of year when guys are given opportunities, you’ve got to take those,” he said. “You get put in a position to succeed and you just have to try take that opportunity and make the most of it.”