Fully recovered, Ray Emery determined to stick with Blackhawks
ADAM L. JAHNS ON THE BLACKHAWKS August 20, 2011 12:24AM
After a remarkable comeback with the Ducks, Ray Emery will battle for the Hawks’ backup-goalie role. | Getty Images
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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:26AM
The pain of having part of the bone removed from his right leg to repair his deteriorating right hip actually turned out to be bearable despite weeks of excruciating moments.
It was the monotony of the rehabilitation — which included testing a wide range of exercises and therapies — that wore on goalie Ray Emery the most.
“It was like the same something over and over again, but you don’t feel like you’re being rewarded for it,” Emery told the Sun-Times. “There’s not wins or losses — nothing like that.”
But he had an unwavering goal.
“I wanted to play again,” Emery said.
That goal still will be there when Emery arrives in Chicago next month — about 10 days before Blackhawks training camp. He’ll compete against rookie Alexander Salak for the backup spot behind Corey Crawford after agreeing to a tryout offer in July.
“I’m really comfortable that they have the best intentions for their club in mind when they’re making decisions like that,” Emery said. “I feel like I can do a lot better than I have in the past.”
With that comes the incentive of having a chance to prove teams were wrong for overlooking him during free agency after he admittedly rushed back from his injury and helped the Anaheim Ducks reach the playoffs last season.
The Hawks covet Salak’s potential, but Emery has the credentials, having had success with the Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers and Ducks. He also has a history of injuries.
Still, having experience behind Crawford, who enters his second full NHL season, is probably a better option.
Emery easily recalls the day he was told he had avascular necrosis, a hip disease in which the femur deteriorates because of the lack of blood flow. A Flyer at the time, he got an MRI on his groin for a nagging injury. He later practiced and felt ready to play when he was called aside.
“The doctors tried to explain that disease to me and, basically, that I wouldn’t be playing for the rest of the year,” said Emery, who was in the middle of reviving his NHL career after a stint in Russia.
“I didn’t feel bad [physically]. My plan was to play until I was physically unable to do it anymore. They kind of told me that if that happened, that would be my hip collapsing.”
On April 1, 2010 — after an exhaustive process of doctor evaluations — he underwent a procedure that involved removing bone from his right fibula and grafting it onto his hip, while cutting through muscle.
His rehabilitation was more of an experiment as he and trainer Matt Nichol tested a variety of exercises, including ballet, Pilates, swimming and yoga, to see what worked best. Acupuncture and hyperbaric treatment were some of the therapies used.
“At certain times, it seemed like it was going to be real hard to get back to playing,” Emery said. “That donor site was the toughest part of the rehabilitation.”
Any doubts faded as he learned to use his leg without having the bone there for support. Looking back, Emery said he always thought he could get through it.
It may have been different training than what he was used to, but his heart was set on being ready by the trade deadline. He was holding out hope that a team would have interest.
On Feb. 7, Emery signed with the Ducks. After a stint in the American Hockey League, he went 7-2 in 10 games with Anaheim before starting in the playoffs. For his remarkable comeback, Emery was a finalist for the Masterton Trophy, which honors perseverance and dedication.
“I didn’t worry about the hip,” Emery said. “I had some soreness and had some different things that ramped up. A lot of it was just nerve sensitivity and a lot of things in the lower leg that needed to work themselves out.”
The battle ahead
While still able to play baseball, Bo Jackson’s NFL career famously ended because of avascular necrosis. Brett Favre also was diagnosed with the disease but was able to play through it.
At 28, Emery, who backstopped the Senators to the Stanley Cup finals in 2007, still feels there’s plenty of hockey in him. In May, Emery was told that his bone graft had completely healed.
“The doctor said, as far as he could see, I’d have a healthy hip for the rest of my life,” Emery said.
So was Emery disappointed few opportunities came his way?
“I’d say so,” he said. “I felt like I rushed back, knowing that I short-changed myself even going into it just to be ready for the trade deadline. I didn’t really have a spot to put my foot in the door. I felt I did the best I could and made a spot for myself.”
The Hawks turned out to be his best option. Things he once took for granted, he doesn’t anymore. So Emery’s more willing to fight for a spot than ever before.
“I knew it was going to be tough to come back to play, but I knew it was possible,” Emery said. “Right now, it’s possible I’ll never play again if I go and have a terrible camp.
“I know they have two goalies that are signed and maybe they have an idea of what they want in net. Hopefully, I go in and change their minds about something and just put a good showing in.”