-- Lying in a Boston hospital with a broken back and uncertain future last June, Vancouver Canucks
forward Mason Raymond
could only think of one thing: the Stanley Cup.
Knowing his team still had a chance to win it helped lift Raymond out of that hospital bed and onto a plane and back to Vancouver, where he stood rinkside in a body brace to salute the home crowd on the big screen at Rogers Arena during Game 7.
“Something was terribly, terribly wrong, as much pain as I’ve been in my entire life,” he said of that first night. “I had something that was serious and maybe career long, but at the end of the day we had a chance to win the Cup and that’s all I could think about.”
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It wasn’t until a while later, after that opportunity for the franchise’s first championship had passed, that Raymond began to think about other things -- mostly the ones that he could no longer do.
Like get out of bed. Or get dressed.
So when Raymond skates in front of that Vancouver crowd again for the first time against Nashville Predators
on Thursday night, it will be with a new perspective on life. His first game since that awkward hit by Bruins’ defenseman Johnny Boychuk
left him with fractured vertebrae will include a renewed appreciation for the fact he spends his life playing hockey.
"We’re so lucky to play this game for a living," Raymond said Wednesday. "Why it takes an injury to make you realize it, I don't know. But I couldn't walk. You can't walk, you got a whole different outlook on life. Again, putting your clothes on, I couldn't do it. Those are things you take from granted when you wake up every morning."
Raymond said there wasn’t one day during his 5 1/2 months between games when he woke up doubting that he'd get back on the ice.
"I always believed I was going to play again. I never tried to rule that out," he said. "But your life changes. The things you are used to doing, you can’t do. You need help getting in and out of bed for weeks on end, you need help putting your clothes on, and you appreciate the use of your body, especially playing at a high level of hockey."
His body has healed enough for Raymond to play at that level again. But that doesn’t mean it has completely healed, he cautioned. It may never be back to 100 percent.
"Things have changed back there, never will be the same, so I want to make sure I'm at a real comfortable spot before I come back," Raymond said, adding he didn’t want to get into too many specifics about the injury. "I had some serious damage back there."
Raymond paused at this point, taking a moment to collect his thoughts.
"I got issues back there I got to deal with all the time," he continued. "That's part of life. Is it going to be perfect? Probably not, but I'm at a state where it's very good and I continue to work hard and do things that are going to put me in a good spot."
It will not, however, be the same spot that Raymond vacated in the playoffs. The second-line left wing position from which the speedster scored 40 goals during the last two seasons has been claimed by trade addition David Booth
during his absence. Judging by practice Raymond will return on a third line with Cody Hodgson
and Jannik Hansen
. Out since June 13, he is just happy to be back at all, even if he's trying to temper expectations.
"It's a little like starting from scratch," Raymond said. "I just went from Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to Game 25 of the regular season. It's going to be different. Once I get into the game I will feel more comfortable. But is that going to take some time to get back to game shape and game mode? Yeah, but I'm very pleased with the process."
The perspective that has come with it helps.