-- Reality hit for Jochen Hecht
as the cheers washed over him on Monday morning.
Wearing a gray (non-contact) sweater, Hecht was striding onto the ice at the end of Buffalo's hour-long open practice at SAP Arena and the crowd -- a mix of Buffalo fans that made the trip and local Adler Mannheim supporters -- whistled and cheered in appreciation for the local hero.
However, it was a bittersweet moment as Hecht, a Mannheim native, had missed the practice, unable to participate because of a recurrence of concussion symptoms. In that moment, he knew his dream of playing against the team he supported as a child and played for as a young man -- and in front of fans that adore him -- officially was over.
"I was looking forward to this all summer," Hecht said. "The way it has worked out now is a little bit disappointing. But, that is the way it is. I have to get healthy for the season."
There was no doubt, though, Hecht's disappointment was tempered a bit by the reaction he received Monday as he slowly circled the arena, staying on the periphery as his teammates concluded a spirited practice. The cheers returned when Hecht stood at the blue line and fired shots at Ryan Miller
from the blue line. His parents, who still live in Mannheim, were among those watching Hecht's every move.
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"It felt great, of course," Hecht said of the reception. "Coming here and being able to say hello to the fans that don't get to see me during the summer. They want to show that I belong to them. This is my hometown. I used to be one of them sitting in the stands watching the team."
Hecht's dream began unraveling once training camp opened. On the first day he bumped heads with a teammate and started experiencing concussion symptoms similar to the ones he suffered at the end of last season, which cost him all but one game of the team's seven-game, first-round series against Philadelphia.
Hecht began skating again last Friday and there was hope that he could find his health before the Mannheim game. He even skated when the team arrived here Sunday. However, he couldn't shake the headaches.
"I worked a little hard last week and had some headaches, so I'm taking a step back again," he said.
His teammates have watched Hecht's struggle to get healthy intently. Not only is the forward a big part of Buffalo's plans for the season, but he is a well-liked member of the team. They all know what this week meant for Hecht.
"You definitely want to see him play in his hometown," defenseman Tyler Myers
. "But, whether he plays or not, it should be a special night."
Myers is also impressed with the way Hecht has handled a bitter disappointment.
"I think he has been handling it well," Myers said. "He's been very positive through all of this."
Most likely, Hecht will be involved in Tuesday's game in some capacity, perhaps handling the ceremonial puck drop.
"I haven't talked to anybody about it yet, but I know they are trying to figure something out," Hecht said.