WINNIPEG - One day after it was announced that Bryan Little wouldn't play for the rest of the regular season due to the perforated ear drum injury he sustained back in early November, his long-time friend and neighbour in the dressing room, Blake Wheeler, spoke about what his teammate has gone through this season.
"He's been through hell and back and working as hard as he can to try to play for us this year. Thankfully he was able to get the correct information he needed," Wheeler said after Sunday's morning skate. "I feel gutted for him. Selfishly as a team we miss him as a hockey player. But Bryan has a lot more going on in his life than the Winnipeg Jets. He's got a wife and a young daughter. Those are at the very top of his list."
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Little requires surgery to fix his injury, with the recovery time expected to be in the three-month range. It also prevents the forward from flying with the team.
The 32-year-old had been skating in a non-contact jersey for a few weeks and while he had improved, the decision to sit out the rest of the season was made based on advice from the medical staff.
While he didn't get past the non-contact jersey, just having Little on the ice was a positive for his fellow teammates.
"I think the fact he was able to bounce back as fast as he was, to just be able to come back into the facility and work out, be around the guys, and resume a normal life was awesome," said Wheeler. "There was no timetable for when he could be himself again. We're just happy he's back to being the Bryan that we know and taking care of the most important things for him."
Little had five points in seven games this season, including the overtime winner in the 2019 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic in Regina, Saskatchewan.
He's been Wheeler's teammate since the Jets captain was acquired by the Atlanta Thrashers in February of 2011.
"You can't put into words what Bryan has meant to my career. I sit next to him every day," said Wheeler. "Our wives are real close. Those are all the things you think about. When I think about the whole situation, I just think about him and you want the best for him. You want him to be looked after.
"I'm just real happy he was able to get what he needed to ultimately make that decision whether he can play or not play. I just feel terrible for him. Those are my feelings. I'm happy he's in a good place now."