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Stars' Ribeiro can finally breathe easy

by Todd Kimberley
CALGARY -- Now that he's fully capable, Mike Ribeiro is breathing a sigh of relief.

Five weeks ago, the Dallas Stars' forward was caught in the throat by an errant stick during a game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Within hours, he was in a Manhattan hospital undergoing an emergency tracheotomy for a fractured larynx.

The 29-year-old Montrealer missed 15 games in recovery, but knows the freak injury could have cost him much, much more.

"Yeah, kind of freaky. Kind of scary," Ribeiro told Thursday in Calgary in the midst of a three-game Stars road trip. "I didn't know much when we were out there on the ice. I didn't know it was any more serious than losing my breath for a little bit. But obviously, once I started spitting blood, that was scarier.

"It really hit me when I got to the hospital. When I got there, I only had 30 percent airway (clearance) and they told me that they had to do (an immediate tracheotomy, or incision in the windpipe). That's when I realized how bad it was.

"First two days, it was kind of hard to breathe. I couldn't talk for days," Ribeiro said. "I know, now, how fortunate I was to be healthy. I still have my voice, and I'm able to play again."

As it happens, Ribeiro was struck in the throat by the stick of the Rangers' Chris Higgins his former Montreal Canadiens friend and teammate, who's since been traded to the Calgary Flames.

"I called him the day after the incident. He knows it was a total freak play," Higgins said. "It's tough to hurt a friend like that. It was kind of scary, there ... I didn't realize how bad it was. With how hard my stick went in to his throat, I knew I caught him pretty good, and that he was hurt. Right in the throat, there, you've got no protection. You're completely exposed. I'm glad he made out all right."

Said Ribeiro: "Actually, I saw Higgins (on Wednesday) at the mall (in Calgary). Obviously it was an accident. I didn't see him; he didn't see me. But it was nice to see him and talk to him for a bit."

Wearing a neck guard, which he'll keep over the wound for six more weeks, Ribeiro returned to action Tuesday in Chicago, scoring a goal during the Stars' 4-3 overtime loss to the Blackhawks.

On Thursday in Calgary, during a 3-1 Dallas win, he struck two more times -- once into an empty net, and once on a highlight-reel effort. After Brad Richards' second-period, power-play point shot just missed the net, Ribeiro corralled the puck beside the right post and, while starting to skate behind the net, banked it off one of Miikka Kiprusoff's pads into the cage.

After undergoing such a traumatic throat injury, like Clint Malarchuk, Trent McCleary and Richard Zednik did before him, Ribeiro admits he's been a little sensitive to stick traffic around his neck.

"There was little bit of a fear of getting hit again," he said, "especially on faceoffs, because there are always sticks coming up and stuff."

Stars head coach Marc Crawford said that despite Ribeiro's eyebrow-raising ice-time numbers in his return -- 17:09 in Chicago, 18:09 in Calgary -- the intention is to work the former 27-goal scorer back into the lineup slowly.

"It's not so much getting the energy for the game. It's getting the energy for the next game," Crawford told "He's made a difference for us already. He's a very talented player who has the ability to stay on loose pucks, and he's very opportunistic."
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