-- The last time Ray Emery
left Philadelphia, his destination was an uncertain future that almost certainly didn't include playing professional hockey.
Almost two years later, he returns to the Wells Fargo Center as the starting goalie for the visiting Chicago Blackhawks
"I got hurt when I was in Philly," Emery told NHL.com, "and it was kind of a scary time, not knowing if I'd get a chance to play again. Being able to come back and be feeling pretty healthy is exciting."
Goalie - CHI
GAA: 2.54 | SVP: 0.908
The two years between games here for Emery featured a horrendous injury, a risky surgery, a monumental rehabilitation and a job market with few options.
Emery entered the 2009-10 season with a one-year deal with the Flyers and looking for redemption after playing the previous season in Russia.
He started with a 28-save shutout opening night in Carolina, and won his first three games. He was 11-8-1 when he missed a month with an abdominal injury; he returned in mid-January and won three of his first four games. In his last game in Philadelphia, Jan. 30, 2010, he stopped 31 of 32 shots in a 2-1 win against the New York Islanders
. Emery played just one more game with the Flyers -- an 18-save shutout in Calgary on Feb. 1 -- before leaving the lineup for good.
The diagnosis was a career-threatening hip injury -- avascular necrosis, where blood flow was cut off to his hip, which was leading to degeneration of the joint. It's the same injury that ended the career of two-sport star Bo Jackson.
"I started off well," Emery said of his time with the Flyers. "Just a string of injuries put a kink in the year and my career. I wish it would have turned out differently."
Emery not only missed the Flyers' run to the Stanley Cup Final, but it was assumed his career was finished. However, he had specialized surgery in April 2010 to address the issue, spent eight months rehabilitating and signed a one-year contract with the Anaheim Ducks
in February 2011.
As Hawks visit, Cup loss stings for Flyers
Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Staff Writer
The Chicago Blackhawks
will be in Philadelphia for the first time since Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final and the Flyers who were there that night still hurt from watching the Hawks skate around with the Cup. READ MORE ›
He went 7-2-0 in 10 games with the Ducks, and started five of their six playoff games this past spring. When that contract ran out, though, Emery again was looking for a job. He landed a tryout deal with the Blackhawks in September, and beat out Alexander Salak
in training camp to win the backup spot behind Corey Crawford
. In 14 games this season, Emery is 9-2-2 with a 2.54 goals-against average and .908 save percentage.
"He's been great for us," said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville
. "Whether we were surprised or not, he's done an outstanding job of getting an opportunity to get more net time and winning some games. Each and every time he's been in the net, he gives us a chance to win. We're comfortable with him."
And Emery is comfortable back in Philadelphia, where he only played 29 games, but has very fond memories.
"I loved playing here," he said. "They've got intense fans and they treated me well."
So well, in fact, that Emery wanted to come back to Philadelphia when he knew he'd be able to play again.
"I talked to Homer (Flyers GM Paul Holmgren
) a lot and John Paddock (assistant GM)," said Emery. "Even when I came back, I was hoping to get a chance to come back with these guys (but) it ended up being Anaheim. I really appreciated them keeping tabs on me and seeing how I was doing and encouraging me any chance they got."
Those good thoughts, however, will get put on hold Thursday when he steps out of the visitors' locker room.
"It's always exciting playing against a team you played against before," he said. "It's added incentive. You still want to beat them. It's a special game."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK