Kesler Returnsby Sean Gallagher | January 23, 2014, 4:27 PM ET
A herniated disc injury sounds painful. Ryan Kesler can tell you for a fact that it is. It can also be career-threatening, which is why the Spartans' centerman isn't complaining about the pain he endured too much. He knows he was lucky.
"It's scary, man," said Kesler, shaking his head, "I knew I was in trouble right away. Never felt anything like that before. Then the docs start going through worst-case scenarios with you at the hospital and ... well, it's rough, let's just say that."
Injured on a freak play in the first period of an early-season surprise shelling of the dangerous Philadephia Fire Ants, Kesler missed the last 17 games after playing only seven periods of hockey for his new team. He was medically cleared to plkay earlier this week, but team management hesitated to immediately insert him in the lineup.
"Sure, the doc said he was good to go and (Kesler) was obviously wanting to get out there, but just because you can skate doesn't mean you're at SICHL speed yet," said team GM Sean Gallagher, "We just wanted him to be as ready as possible first."
Kesler was hoping to start as soon as he was cleared, a game the Spartans had against Philly, the same team he was playing when injured.
"Not for any vendetta kind of reason," said Kesler, "Obviously, no penalty was called on the play and I don't think there was any intent to injure me. I just wanted to get back in there against them. Symmetry or something, I guess."
Kesler will have to settle for a return to action against regional rival Chicago at the Tigers' home rink. For many Spartans fans, Kesler's return to the lineup signals the real start of the season for the team. With his early departure from the lineup, as well as a long-term injury to shutdown center Paul Gaustad, the team has struggled to win games, but has somehow managed to hang around the playoff Mason-Dixon line. The hope is that Kesler's return will help get the team back into the top half of the conference.
"Everyone worked their bag off while Ryan was on the shelf," said Gallagher, "But you can't fake your way around not having his offense in the game. We're a better team when he's playing."