For awhile, it looked like Oilers winger Fernando Pisani would be lost for the entire season, stricken with Ulcerative Colitis. But 26 games later, he is now very close to returning to the lineup and is travelling with the team on their two-game California road trip.
Pisani knew something wasn’t right around the start of July when he began experiencing some of the symptoms of the disease.
“It started towards the middle of July. I started feeling sick. It went from a really bad situation to worse. I lost a lot of blood, was constantly going to the bathroom and basically couldn’t live a day-to-day life,” said Pisani back in October.
Pisani experienced a lot of internal bleeding and he was showing no signs of improvement until late in September when a change in medication improved his outlook.
“I started different medication and started to feel a lot better and things started to progress upwards instead of downwards. I was really happy for that because the next step would have been surgery and that’s a major surgery and I wasn’t really looking forward to that.”
The surgery would have meant no hockey for at least a season but after the medication started to help, his outlook changed. Pisani slowly regained the 30 pounds of lost weight and began to work on an on-ice conditioning program to get back to playing.
“I think every day I feel better,” Pisani said after practice on Saturday with regards to his condition now. “From where I was a month ago, I’m pretty happy with the way things have gone.”
At his bleakest state, Pisani wasn’t even able to walk up the stairs but his strength has consistently improved through a rigorous workout program.
“(I was not) able to do anything (before) but now I’m getting my strength up to where I like it,” he said.
Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish said that he will be cautious with how much he uses Pisani in the first few games once he does return.
“He’s skated a lot. I’m going to really monitor his ice early and just give him what he’s capable of,” MacTavish said. “If he’s looking tired and fatigued, I’ll cut him back as best we can.”
The Oilers bench boss went on to say that he thinks that Pisani is ready to take the next step in his rehabilitation, and that means getting some game action.
“I think he’s ready. Mentally, he’s definitely ready. Physically, I think the only obstacle left for him is to get into some game activity.”
The team wanted to ease him into the lineup a little more but with injuries on Friday to Ales Hemsky
and Geoff Sanderson—neither is going on the road trip—he may be pressed into service.
“In a perfect world we could send him down (to AHL Springfield) to play a couple games but we don’t have that luxury right now,” the Oilers head coach continued. “I’m not sure based on the way he thinks the game, he needs that. I think he’ll get up to speed pretty quickly.”
Pisani knows that the first few shifts or even games will be difficult due to the quick pace in the NHL game.
“It’s going to be an adjustment time for me to get out there. It’s going to be a fast pace and a lot of stuff going on,” Pisani stated. “I’m not going to be expecting to score goals right away. I’m going to work hard and get my game back to where I’d like it to be.”
The more games he gets into, the closer he’ll get to top form.
“Nothing prepares you physically or mentally until you get on the ice. You can skate or ride the bike as hard as you want but once you get on the ice, it’s a totally different ballgame.”
For Pisani, it will be good to simply head out with the team on the road after having not played for nearly eight months dating back to last season.
“It’ll be nice to get on the road again and hang out with the guys,” he said. “It’s good to just to get back into that routine and mindset that you’re playing.”
His return couldn’t have come at a better time with the team starting to make a move up the standings but now seeing a return of the injury bug with Sanderson and Hemsky out.
“We have some guys obviously hurt but no other teams are going to care about that. We’ve got to go out there and play the game. Once we get everybody back our team is going to be tough to beat but until that time we have to go out there, compete and battle – give ourselves a chance to win every night.”HEMSKY AND SANDERSON NO GO FOR TRIP
Head coach Craig MacTavish said on Saturday that the team’s second leading scorer Ales Hemsky
would not be going on the road trip and is out for both Sunday and Monday’s games.
“We’re not expecting it to be a long time but we’ve just got to take the time and see how it’s going to respond. Right now he’s in quite a bit of pain so it’s virtually impossible for him to play any of the upcoming two games.”
However, as of right now Hemsky’s injury looks to be a short-term situation.
“We’re going to leave him at home and get him treated, try and get him healthy for the next one (Wednesday vs. Pittsburgh).”
There are a few more question marks with Geoff Sanderson’s injury. His was a more wait-and-see situation and the team will talk more about timelines once the soreness in his back goes away.
“Sanderson’s staying at home, too. His back has got a couple of facets. He tightened up (Friday) and was no good again today.”