Dan Boyle’s shot couldn’t have been less accurate.
It was a slap shot late in a close game, but instead of propelling the puck toward the net with any sort of rational trajectory, Boyle’s shot launched straight up in the air. If the puck hadn’t caught Dan Hamhuis square in the jaw, it would’ve been over the glass by several feet.
“I don’t think the shot was supposed to be going in that direction which is certainly why I wasn’t expecting it or looking,” Hamhuis told reporters on Saturday.
It was the first time that Hamhuis had addressed the media since being struck by Boyle’s errant slap shot and the veteran Vancouver Canucks blue-liner was forthright about the gruesome ordeal.
He spoke about how he knew he was really in trouble when he began to trace the roof of his mouth with his tongue, and instead of finding a loose tooth or two, found mush. That’s when he got a bit woozy.
“It’s an unfortunate part of the game,” Hamhuis said of the incident, “but those types of injuries happen. I was real fortunate to have the medical staff that we do on the ice, as I went into the dressing room and right through to the hospital. I couldn’t have asked for better care.”
Hamhuis was rushed to hospital following the incident and he underwent a significant surgical procedure the next day. There’s more work to be done in a couple weeks, after the brace is removed.
“We haven’t really seen what’s going on underneath the bracing,” Hamhuis told reporters. “(There’s) a lot of fractures a lot of breaks in there.
“The doctors were able to put it together quite nicely in the surgery, and then I went through a period where the jaw was wired for a little which made it difficult to eat, which certainly had its challenges especially through Christmas.”
With his jaw wired, Hamhuis was unable to eat solid food for about a month. He lost 10 pounds, though he says he’s put about half of that back on.
“I had great care, not only by the doctors, but the community of people in terms of our friends, the team, friends from the city,” Hamhuis said of coping with his extended recovery. “Our church and a restaurant in town that provided a bunch of pureed food for me, David Hawksworth did, that was always a bright spot.
“The taste was the same,” Hamhuis continued on the subject of consuming only pureed food. “You lose the pleasure of the textures, but you learn how to be better at pureeing.”
That’s some silver lining.
Now that Hamhuis is back to skating with a full cage and working out in the gym, the club can begin to think about his return. Several Canucks depth defencemen have stepped up and fared well in his absence, most notably Alex Biega, but the club has missed Hamhuis’ steady two-way game enormously – perhaps more than might have been reasonably expected.
Since Hamhuis left the lineup with injury 11 games ago, the Canucks have controlled 44.4 per cent of score adjusted shot attempts at even strength. That’s the worst mark in hockey by a fair margin.
“I’d say he’s about a month away, you have to let everything heal,” said Canucks coach Willie Desjardins of Hamhuis’s timeline to return. “He’s not out there with any contact where there’s anybody around, it’s just him. He’s quite a ways away, but he’s feeling better.”
Hamhuis is hoping to return on a more accelerated timeline, but he admits that it’s a fluid situation.
“We have some dates in mind,” said Hamhuis. “Probably after All-Star break is what we’re looking at.
“We’ll see how things go, that’s still a few weeks away so just making sure things go smoothly between now and then but the biggest thing is probably going to be conditioning and getting back into game shape.”
Before the injury there was some intrigue about whether or not Hamhuis, a pending unrestricted free agent with full no-trade protection, might be dealt at the trade deadline. The Canucks’ play in Hamhuis’s absence, however, might suggest that the Canucks can’t afford to lose a veteran second-pairing defender if they’re intent on being competitive in the short term.
Also worth considering is the role that Hamhuis plays, and continued to play during his recovery, in mentoring some of the younger defencemen on the team.
“Even (though) Hammer isn’t playing right now he’s coming over, talking, giving me little tips and telling me things to do,” Canucks rookie defenseman Ben Hutton told reporters early this week.
Whatever the future holds for Hamhuis and the Canucks, it’s clear that the club has missed his reliable presence on the second defensive pair. And that gruesome as his injury was and as arduous as the recovery process has been, Hamhuis feels fortunate to have escaped the worst of it.
“To be able to be in a position where I know I’m going to be 100 per cent healthy again and playing in a few weeks is better than maybe being uncertain about a future in hockey,” Hamhuis reflected on Saturday. “I’m happy to be in this position right now.”