TORONTO — Paul Ranger felt the pain in his neck immediately. Down on the ice for several minutes, his mind raced and then found some peace.
"It’s scary," he said. "But I just remember feeling like, ‘You know what, I am going to be OK. I don’t know what’s going on, but I can move my legs, I can feel my hands, I can feel my feet and I’m going to be OK no matter what."’
The Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman was back with the team less than two days after suffering a neck injury when he was boarded by Tampa Bay Lightning forward Alex Killorn. Just being at the practice rink Friday for a team photo was another positive sign for Ranger, who was treated and released at a hospital Wednesday night.
"I’m thankful," Ranger said. "I’m OK."
Coach Randy Carlyle reported some good news as well: that the 29-year-old had a stiff neck but not a concussion as a result of his head slamming into the glass.
"That’s not the world that (doctors) ever described to me," Carlyle said after practice. "They never said that. I know it’s a big word in today’s sports, so I refrain from using it. Right now I was told there was no concussion issues."
Ranger confirmed that it was a neck injury, not a head injury. He does not know when he might be able to return to game action, calling his situation a "day-to-day thing right now."
When he went down late in the first period of the Leafs’ 5-3 loss to the Lightning, it looked like it could be much worse. After remaining on the ice for seven minutes, Ranger was taken off on a stretcher and then to the hospital.
Ranger was anxious and in a bit of shock at first, but amid that doctors told him he was relaxed and co-operative.
"I don’t want to get into the details, I don’t really want to re-live it," he said. "I know that my body and my mind just went into preservation mode. All I could think was just ‘Don’t move, stay straight and breathe,’ and I just kind of breathed three in, three out for the next three to four hours right from the get-go."
Ranger praised Leafs doctor Noah Forman, athletic therapists Paul Ayotte and Marty Dudgeon and Lightning trainer Tom Mulligan for the care they administered.
"They did a great job all-around," he said. "Even through that stressful time, I felt comforted and loved, really, and cared for."
Ranger, who spent parts of five seasons with the Lightning, said Killorn reached out to him but declined to reveal the nature of that dialogue. He does not believe Killorn attempted to injure him.
"From what I gather about him is that he’s a good kid, and I knew that right from the start that it wasn’t intentional," Ranger said. "My friends that I know close in Tampa say that he is a pretty good person, never really means to hurt anybody."
Still, Ranger considered it a dangerous play. He avoided watching more than one replay because "that was enough," and didn’t want to weigh in on any supplemental discipline for Killorn.
"It’s not up for me to decide if someone gets suspended or not," he said. "That’s not my call."
But Ranger doesn’t want to see similar situations happen moving forward.
"I think it maybe needs some looking at," Ranger said. "I think there’s some reviewing that should be done for the safety of myself and, to be honest, everyone else — future players."