ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -Kurtis Foster leaned on his crutches, his paled face showing about 10 fewer pounds, and beamed about his first time out of the hospital or the house in three weeks.
"It's nice to get some fresh air and see the ice and see the guys and have a few laughs, but soon enough I'll get tired," the Minnesota Wild defenseman said, explaining that his Tuesday visit to Xcel Energy Center would be brief.
Recovery from a broken left femur will do that.
Foster was hurt in a collision on March 19 at San Jose during a race to the puck with Sharks rookie Torrey Mitchell, who was trying to keep his team from a touchup icing call. Foster needed surgery to repair the fracture, and a stabilizing rod was inserted in his upper leg. He has two screws in his knee and one in his hip.
Since his discharge from the hospital, Foster has spent six hours a day in a machine designed to get the bend back in his knee. He still has significant swelling, and he requires in-home health care. His fiancee drove him to the rink so he could see his teammates practice in preparation for Wednesday's playoff game against the Colorado Avalanche.
"Every day I can see a little bit of improvement, so that's the good thing," said Foster, an energetic person who has remained remarkably upbeat since the injury.
He said he plans to try to attend Game 2 on Friday, but his stamina is low and he'll need to sit in a wheelchair to watch from the press box so he can keep his leg elevated.
"It's great to see him," defenseman Keith Carney said. "Obviously, he's been through some tough times of late. ... As an athlete, your body is your bread and butter. You take care of it. Everything you do, it's your livelihood. To have a bad injury like that, it's got to be tough."
Foster said he still worries he'll fall and won't be able to get up, so his hospital bracelet remained connected to his wrist. He's hoping for "a miracle" that would allow him to return for training camp. That seems like a long shot, so general manager Doug Risebrough has decided he will extend a qualifying offer to the restricted free agent this summer so he doesn't have to worry about his status as much.
"It's a pretty classy move by them, and I respect them a lot for that," Foster said.
Risebrough said he sees the 26-year-old in the team's future plans.
"I think he's got a pretty difficult injury to deal with, but time is on his side," Risebrough said.
As the Wild welcomed the sight of Foster, they were forced to think about playing without another valued defenseman, Nick Schultz, who was sidelined indefinitely following an appendectomy on Monday.
Petteri Nummelin will probably take most of Schultz's minutes.
"I've just got to get my mind ready," he said, referring to a long stretch of scratches due to a groin injury and the number crunch on the roster.
Coach Jacques Lemaire said there aren't any defenseman he's comfortable calling up from the minors, so it's up to Carney, Brent Burns, Kim Johnsson, Sean Hill, Nummelin and Martin Skoula to pick up the slack.
"We can't look back. We go forward," Lemaire said.