Ray Emery’s ‘one in a million’ comeback from grueling hip surgery

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The Ray Emery that Chicago Blackhawks fans might see during training camp should be a changed man compared to the one many hockey fans judged as an eccentric prima donna during his days with the Ottawa Senators.

He’s taken quite a humbling path to get there. After the Senators decided to part ways with their roach-eating, promising young Stanley Cup finals starter, Emery found himself in KHL purgatory for a season. That run in the KHL helped him rebuild his image enough to earn a job with the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2009-10 season.

That’s when things went from rocky to career-threatening. Emery was dealing with avascular necrosis, a hip problem so severe that many believed it would be the end of his playing days. With every start his hip continued to deteriorate, with one doctor saying that he would have been done for good if he played for a few more months.

Ultimately, Emery was given a choice to go through a painful surgery which features a rehab process so painful (and rare) that a full return to action was concerned almost unprecedented among professional athletes. Craig Custance tells the story about Emery’s collapsing hip.

“Once it collapses, you’re done,” Ruch said. “It was a critical time for him. He could have played on that season with the Flyers and it would have collapsed and that would have been it.”

The solution wasn’t any more pleasant. The corrective surgery replaces the dead bone with living bone — in this case, bone from the middle section of Emery’s fibula. Surgery meant the removal of dead bone from Emery’s hip and the extraction of healthy bone from his leg. It also involves cutting through muscle just to get to the femur.

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In all, the surgery took six hours. That was the easy part.

The rehab process was even worse. Custance writes that Emery dealt with relentless pain following the surgery, with the results so agonizing he rarely got more than an hour of sleep in any attempt at rest. Emery spoke to a mother of a youth hockey goalie who underwent the same surgery and eventually committed suicide with pain killers.

Through a grueling rehab process, Emery defied odds by getting himself in shape to play in net again. He used everything from ballet to yoga and on to somehow get his body to where it needed to be for another chance. The results stunned doctors and trainers, including Duke University’s Dr. David Ruch.

“He’s an amazing character and I think he’s a controversial character,” Ruch said. “The guy is an extraordinarily motivated individual. Everybody who has encountered him from our perspective is amazed at the dedication it took. He’s one in a million.”

Emery still needs to beat some odds during his training camp audition with the Blackhawks. Corey Crawford is entrenched as the No. 1 starter while Alexander Salak has the leg up as the backup thanks to his one-way contract. Emery wasn’t just a charity case last season, though; he went 7-2-0 with a stunning .926 save percentage and 2.28 GAA to help the Anaheim Ducks squeak into the playoffs.

In other words, Emery might not be done beating the odds just yet.

PHT’s second-round playoff predictions, featuring the red-hot Random Thing Picker

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It was a tough first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for many of the so-called experts of the world.

Upsets included the Predators over the Blackhawks and the Blues over the Wild. The Rangers over the Canadiens was a quasi-upset, too.

Here at PHT, it was a mixed bag. Mike Halford and Cam Tucker each went an impressive 6-2. And so too did the Random Thing Picker, which as its name suggests, picks random things. (And picks them rather well, apparently.)

Of note, the Random Thing Picker and James O’Brien were the only ones to pick the Preds over the ‘Hawks. So congratulations to both robotic lifeforms on that bit of soothsaying.

Rounding out the rest of the first-round results, Adam Gretz and Joey Alfieri went 4-4, while at 3-5, O’Brien and yours truly couldn’t even crack .500. (Stupid Jake Allen.)

On to the second round!

Washington versus Pittsburgh (Stream Capitals-Penguins)

Brough: Capitals in 7
Halford: Penguins in 6
O’Brien: Capitals in 7
Gretz: Capitals in 7
Tucker: Capitals in 6
Alfieri: Capitals in 7
Random Thing Picker: Capitals

New York versus Ottawa (Stream Rangers-Senators)

Brough: Senators in 6
Halford: Senators in 7
O’Brien: Rangers in 7
Gretz: Rangers in 6
Tucker: Rangers in 6
Alfieri: Senators in 6
Random Thing Picker: Senators

St. Louis versus Nashville (Stream Blues-Predators)

Brough: Predators in 6
Halford: Blues in 7
O’Brien: Predators in 6
Gretz: Predators in 6
Tucker: Predators in 7
Alfieri: Predators in 6
Random Thing Picker: Blues

Anaheim versus Edmonton (Stream Ducks-Oilers)

Brough: Ducks in 7
Halford: Ducks in 6
O’Brien: Ducks in 6
Gretz: Oilers in 7
Tucker: Oilers in 6
Alfieri: Ducks in 6
Random Thing Picker: Ducks

Feel free to add your picks below…

Auston Matthews to skip Worlds

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Auston Matthews is going to take some time off.

As such, the 19-year-old star forward won’t be heading overseas to represent the United States in the upcoming World Championship.

You can hardly blame him. Matthews just finished his rookie season in the NHL, playing all 82 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs, plus six more in the playoffs.

Oh, and he also played in the World Cup for Team North America.

Matthews did participate in last year’s Worlds. He had six goals and three assists in 10 games on the way to a fourth-place finish.

Related: Gaudreau, Eichel commit to USA Worlds roster

Blackhawks fire their AHL head coach

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Yesterday, the Chicago Blackhawks fired longtime assistant coach Mike Kitchen.

Today, it was longtime AHL coach Ted Dent who got the ax.

Dent has been the head coach of the Rockford IceHogs the past six seasons, and he was an assistant coach for Chicago’s AHL affiliate the previous five seasons.

“The Chicago Blackhawks thank Ted for all of his contributions throughout his tenure with the organization,” GM Stan Bowman said. “He played a major role in helping a number of players reach the NHL level with the Chicago Blackhawks, many of whom became Stanley Cup champions. We wish Ted and his family the best.”

The IceHogs missed the playoffs this season, finishing last in the AHL’s Central Division with a record of 25-39-12.

Related: A furious Bowman addressed the Blackhawks’ postseason failure

Report: Canucks close to naming Travis Green head coach

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The Vancouver Canucks are reportedly set to announce Travis Green as their next head coach.

According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, the announcement will be made in the next couple of days.

Green, who played over 1,000 games in the NHL including the playoffs, has been the head coach of the Canucks’ AHL affiliate in Utica the past four seasons. Under his watch, the Comets have played mostly winning hockey in spite of some rather depleted lineups.

Ever since Willie Desjardins was fired at the end of the season, Green has been the leading candidate to take over in Vancouver. The only question, really, was whether he’d be a candidate for another NHL head-coaching vacancy, perhaps with the Florida Panthers.

Assuming no last-minute hiccups, Green will take over a transitioning Canucks team that has finished 28th and 29th overall in its last two seasons, respectively.

“We’re going to be young,” president of hockey ops Trevor Linden said. “Young players make mistakes. There’s going to be some growing pains. We need a coach that understands exactly where we are.”

Related: In farewell to Vancouver, Desjardins defends his approach to young players