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Pearce could make debut in Big Apple

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Jordan Pearce could start his first NHL game Wednesday in NYC if veteran backup Ty Conklin doesn't clear waivers. (Photo by Dave Reginek)
DETROIT – If hockey didn’t work-out, there was always medical school. At least that’s the way Red Wings minor-league goaltender Jordan Pearce always looked at it.

Now the Notre Dame graduate is one waiver move away from starting his first NHL game when the Wings visit the New York Rangers Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

The likelihood of Pearce playing Wednesday was made possible when Jimmy Howard re-aggravated the groin injury, which forced him to sit three games earlier this month. The Wings are also without backup Joey MacDonald, who is experiencing sharp sciatic pain in his left leg, and has an appointment Tuesday with a Detroit area orthopedic and spine surgeon.

Detroit has recalled veteran backup Ty Conklin on emergency basis from Grand Rapids. However, he must first clear re-entry waivers by 12 p.m. EDT on Wednesday. If nobody claims Conklin, he will join the team in New York where he will start against the Rangers.

If Conklin is claimed, expect Pearce to make his NHL debut against the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference.

“I don't know what's going on with Howie yet, but I feel like whether you're a backup or a starter you got to be ready to go,” said Pearce, who has one more year left on his two-way contract. “I prepare the same as I have been all week. You just got to be ready to go.”

Pearce, 25, is on his second recall from Grand Rapids this month, to serve as backup to Howard and MacDonald.

The Wings have been decimated by injuries lately with 10 players having missed a total of 51 games since Feb. 20 when Pavel Datsyuk underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. With six players still in sick bay, including Nicklas Lidstrom (ankle), Jakub Kindl (strained oblique), Darren Helm (left MCL), Jonathan Ericsson (left wrist) and Johan Franzen (back spasms), the last thing they needed was for Howard to re-injure his groin at some point during Monday’s 5-3 loss to Washington.

“I don't think it's anything major,” coach Mike Babcock said, “just some tightness, we're obviously trying to be cautious.”

Should Pearce play Wednesday, he’ll look to count on his collegiate experience, he said.

As a college senior in 2008-09, he led the Fighting Irish to both the CCHA regular-season and playoff titles, finishing with a 30-6-3 record, a 1.68 goals-against average and eight shutouts. He led the nation that season in wins and shutouts and was selected as the CCHA scholar-athlete of the year.

However, Pearce had other options besides hockey, which he would still like to pursue at some point, but not tomorrow.

“I went into my senior year not quite knowing what to expect and went through med school applications,” Pearce said. “You only get a chance one time in your life to pursue professional hockey, so I decided to give it a shot, and here I am right now.”

Pearce was accepted to two schools, including his first choice – the WWAMI program at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

“I'm excited about that career once I'm done playing hockey,” he said. “The chance to play professional hockey tomorrow night, I'm excited about that.”

The Wings are desperate for a win, having earned three-points in their last eight games and in a dogfight with Nashville and Chicago in the Western standings. However, Pearce, who has played in pressure situations like the 2008 NCAA national championship game, can’t get caught up with the excitement if he gets into Wednesday’s game.

“I'll get focused and play the game. I fee like hockey is hockey, it's always the same,” Pearce said. “Puck's the same size. You just got to go out there and have fun and have confidence in yourself. … For me it's always been a nervous excitement. You got to be confident in yourself. I'm definitely excited if I get called upon.”

Meanwhile, MacDanald’s back and nerve pain stems from scar tissue from a previous surgery known as an L5-S1 lumbar discectomy. X-rays have shown the tissue pushing against the sciatic nerve.

“It’s a huge relief that it’s not a disk, MacDonald said. “I went through it once with a bulging disk, it’s not fun. It was the worst three or four months of my life. Fortunate enough that it’s not that and we’ll find out more today.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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