BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -Shortly after Dr. Sonya Noor checked in on Richard Zednik in the intensive care unit a day after stitching his nearly severed carotid artery back together, the Florida Panthers' forward already had a question.
"He actually asked me when he could go back to training?" the Buffalo General Hospital vascular surgeon said with a smile Monday afternoon. "And I said, 'Next season."'
The answer might not be what Zednik wanted to hear. Listed in stable condition, Zednik will need between six to eight weeks to recover, meaning he'll likely miss the rest of the regular season.
But that's a far better prognosis than the one many feared a day earlier, when Zednik raced off the ice with blood gushing from his neck after being sliced by a teammate's skate in a freak, near-deadly accident.
"He looks very good. He's alert, awake, oriented. He remembers what happened last night. ... He's right on target," said Noor, who performed the one-hour surgery. "He's with his wife upstairs. They're talking, and we're just very, very happy. We were all lucky last night, not just Richard."
In a play that's been rerun on TV broadcasts across the continent and on YouTube, Zednik was hurt midway through the third period of the Panthers' 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. He was behind the play when teammate Olli Jokinen was upended and had his skate fly up and cut the right side of Zednik's neck.
After going down briefly, Zednik put his glove to the deep, 1 1/2- to 2-inch wound, and skated immediately to the Panthers' bench leaving a trail of blood behind him.
Zednik lost five units of blood, but was fortunate for several reasons, because the injury is considered life-threatening if not treated quickly. Panthers trainers and Sabres orthopedic surgeon Les Bisson quickly began applying pressure to the wound and Zednik, after being transported by ambulance, was in surgery within an hour.
"It's hard to say what would have happened under other circumstances, but clearly, the care he got initially by the staff at the arena, I think, saved his life," said Robert McCormack, the hospital's clinical chief of emergency medicine.
Zednik, who was cooperative and never lost consciousness on his way to surgery, had several things going for him.
Doctors were astonished the skate blade did not hit any other arteries or veins, including the jugular, or cause any major nerve damage. It also helped that the artery was not entirely severed - "It was hanging by a thread," Noor said. That lessened the time it took for the carotid to be clamped as it was reattached, and decreased the chances of brain damage, because the artery supplies blood to the brain.
Bisson said losing five units - about five pints - of blood was significant, but "not a lot" for this type of injury.
"Luck," was a factor, according to Noor. "He might have some hoarseness and that's about it at this point."
The Panthers returned home to South Florida following the game, a flight coach Jacques Martin said was "pretty quiet."
However, Zednik was joined at the hospital by his wife, Jessica, and Karen Cohen, wife of Alan Cohen, who is the Panthers' general partner, chairman of the board and CEO, hospital spokesman Mike Hughes said in a release. The two arrived by charter flight late Sunday night.
Zednik will remain in the ICU at least one more day, and could be discharged from the hospital by this weekend.
"The entire Panthers organization wish to extend their sincere gratitude and appreciation to the medical staff at Buffalo General Hospital, the Buffalo Sabres organization, the HSBC Arena staff and to the Panthers and Sabres fans who have expressed their thoughts and concerns," Panthers assistant general manager Randy Sexton said.
Bisson, the Sabres' doctor, said injuries to the carotid artery are potentially fatal, but stressed that was not a concern.
"I wouldn't say he was close to death," Bisson said. "If you can stop the bleeding, then you have some time ... I wouldn't say at any point, we're thinking: `He's going to die now."'
A 12-year veteran, Zednik signed with the Panthers as a free agent last summer. After a two-month slump, he has been playing well. He entered the game on a four-game point streak, in which he had six goals and three assists, giving him 26 points (15 goals, 11 assists) in 54 games this season.
Associated Press Writer Sarah Larimer in Miami contributed to this report.