|Dan Cleary scored two goals and took 20 stitches to close a gash over his right eye against Columbus earlier this season. He hopes to return from a broken jaw by the end of March. |
– The first week was the rough, Dan Cleary said.
First came the surgery to repair his fractured jaw that he suffered during the first period on Feb. 9 in Toronto. Then came the pain medication that made him constantly sleepy, followed by the rapid loss in body weight – a result of having his jaws wired shut.
“It was the toughest thing I’ve been through, mentally and physically,” said Cleary, who returned to the Red Wings’ locker room on Thursday for the first time since the injury. “The first week was really tough -- not being able to open your mouth, and being able to breath were definitely tough.”
Cleary’s injury has also been a hardship for Mikael Samuelsson. It was Samuelsson’s shot from inside the blue line that broke Cleary’s jaw.
“I would rather take a puck myself than to hit guys like that,” Samuelsson said. “It’s an awful feeling.”
Samuelsson, who is still somewhat shaken by the incident, spoke to Cleary on the team’s short flight from Toronto to Detroit. All Cleary could do was listen, though he did manage to scratch out a note that basically exonerated his teammate.
“He obviously couldn’t speak, or he didn’t want to speak,” Samuelsson said. “There’s nothing you can do about it, but hopefully he’s back soon.”
“I would rather take a puck myself than to hit guys like that. It’s an awful feeling.” - Mikael Samuelsson
Cleary said he hopes to return to the ice as early as Sunday’s morning skate in Buffalo. Conditioning is an obvious concern for him, he said, especially since he lost about 15-pounds with his jaws still wired shut.
“I did lose a lot of weight, it was real tough to keep it on,” said Cleary, who began the season at 210-pounds. “I’ve got about 4-5 weeks to get it back and I feel that I will be back better and stronger than before I was hurt. I didn’t even want to get on the scale -- I won’t lie to you. You want to play at 215-210 … I have a ways to go.”
For his Red Wings’ teammates, it was a relief to just have Cleary back at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday.
“This is the first day that I’ve seen him. He looks good,” Samuelsson said. “He looks healthy for sure.”
Before the injury, Cleary had been one of the hottest Wings. He had seven goals and six assists in January, and was named the team’s Hardest Working Player of the Month – an award he was supposed to receive during a pre-game ceremony on Feb. 10 at Joe Louis Arena.
But Cleary hasn’t sulked about the injury that derailed his successful season. Instead, he said, he subscribes to the “everything happens for a reason” theory.
“I took a lot of positives out of it,” he said. “I got to spend a lot of time with my little girl every morning, and my family. That was nice … and I’ll come back stronger for the playoffs.”
Ideally, Cleary said he would like to return before the playoffs, perhaps as early as the end of March.
“That’s my goal to get back and play the last 3-4 games to get my timing and game legs back,” he said. “But I’m real anxious to get back on the ice period.”