ST. PAUL -- Former Minnesota Wild forward Ryan Carter wasn't sure if he'd ever play professional hockey again. Now fully recovered from a labrum injury, the veteran forward will likely get an answer to that question soon.
Carter believes he can still play in the NHL, and hopes he can earn himself a contract with his hometown team in the next couple of weeks. He has worked hard over the past month in his rehabilitation of surgery on a torn labrum that ended his professional tryout with the club in training camp and, for a spell, Carter's belief that he would ever play in the League again.
"The toughest part is probably staring in the mirror or sitting on the couch and thinking, 'Wow, that was it, that was my last game,'" Carter said. "You really don't have the answers and maybe it's not up to you, like maybe it wasn't up to me. I could try to play and try to come back, but maybe there's not a chance or an opportunity. That was the tough part, not knowing what was ahead."
Carter said he sustained the labrum injury in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes last March 19. He finished the season, played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and worked through it during the summer with it.
He wasn't offered a contract by the Wild, but came to training camp on a professional tryout, hoping to earn his way onto the roster with a strong camp.
But the injury lingered and made it difficult for him to play his style of game.
Finally, Carter made the tough decision to have the procedure, ending his tryout with nothing guaranteed on the other end.
At 33 years old, it was possible Carter had played his final game as a pro. He and his wife, Erin, are both natives of White Bear Lake and made their home there. That meant watching the Wild, a team he had played for each of the past two seasons and a club that has a roster with several close friends of his.
Video: Ryan Carter Skates with Wild
"At first, it was tough to me to watch the games. I was kind of disinterested in it," Carter said. "Lately it's been fun. They've done well and it's impressive in how they win in a number of different fashions: come from behind, blowout, tough games, one-goal games. They just find different ways to win."
With his arm in a sling for a month, Carter played the role of full-time dad, enjoying life with his three kids. It kept him from "being on the couch" too long.
"And if I was, I just a jungle gym on there," Carter said.
Once his arm was out of a sling, the rehab began. Over the following six weeks, Carter slowly went about gaining strength in the extremity. After about three months, he felt comfortable enough to get back on the ice and has skated over the last few weeks with Wild skating consultants Andy and Diane Ness.
"It's kind of been like 'Groundhog Day,' you're out there, skating by yourself and you think you're up to speed," Carter said. "You think you're up to speed, the you get out there with some speed and the game is fast. There's adjustments there, so I think it'll take me a little bit to get up to speed and practice and things like that."
Whether the Wild and Carter find a match will likely be decided in the next few weeks. Carter will skate with the team during practice, a luxury for Minnesota since it has just 12 forwards currently on the roster.
Carter must sign with the Wild or another team by March 1 if he is to be eligible for a playoff roster.
"I like to look at it like, [the Wild isn't] just being friendly with me. I think there is a genuine desire and a position to be earned," Carter said. "That's nice and fair and motivates me to play for and work for."