The Remarkable Return of Razor Ray
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A year ago, Ray Emery thought he’d never again play hockey. Today, he’s the backup goalie for the surging Anaheim Ducks and making a name for himself again.
In December of 2009, Emery -- then with the Philadelphia Flyers -- was placed on injured reserve and set to undergo surgery to repair a torn muscle in his abdomen. He was expected to miss at least six weeks as he recovered. However, his journey back to the ice took much longer than anyone - especially Ray himself - would have expected.
It was discovered that Emery had avascular necrosis, a bone disease where, due to the interruption of blood supply, the bone tissue dies and the bone collapses. In March of 2010, Flyers’ General Manager Paul Holmgren announced that Emery would miss the remainder of the 2009-2010 season because of the disease. Emery had appeared in 29 games thus far for the Flyers, putting up impressive numbers with a 16-11-1 record, a .905 save percentage, and three shutouts.
The diagnosis was an unexpected and devastating one. The timetable of Emery’s return had grown exponentially, from six weeks until who knew when. It was possible that he might not ever play hockey again. But Emery never seemed to give up hope, and never lost his motivation. He wanted to be back on the ice, and was willing to put forth as much effort as it would take to get himself there.
His surgery, which involved removing a piece of his right fibula and then grafting it to the femur bone to re-introduce a proper blood supply to the area, was deemed “extremely successful” by his doctors in April. Still, there was no guarantee how long it would take Emery to return to the game. Aside from the injury, there was another obstacle in the way: he became an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. Now, not only was he unsure if he’d ever play another game of professional hockey, but he had no idea where he would play if he did return.
He spent a few weeks recuperating before he was given the green light to begin the rehabilitation process in August. He was only focused on one thing: getting back to the game he loved. While Emery knew that if he didn’t take it easy, he could have hip problems for the rest of his life, he didn’t care. He wasn’t thinking about the long-term effects; he just wanted to play. In an article published by espn.com, Emery was quoted as saying, “I told [the doctor] that I could care less if I can’t walk in five years, but I just want to play hockey for five years.”
His tireless determination paid off. In January of 2011, he began skating with an OHL team and working with a personal trainer, a goalie coach, and hockey alum Eric Lindros. Just a month later, he signed a one year, two-way contract with the Anaheim Ducks. There were other teams interested, but Anaheim seemed like the best fit. He reported to the Syracuse Crunch to begin conditioning, and appeared in net for three games. In those games, Emery compiled a record of 2-1-0 with a 2.62 GAA and .925 save percentage.
On February 23rd, almost a year after his surgery - a surgery that it seems no NHL player has ever come back from - Emery was called up to the Ducks, and made his debut on March 13th when he replaced Dan Ellis partway through a game against the Phoenix Coyotes. He made his first start the following game against the St. Louis Blues, making 30 of 31 saves to help his team get the 2-1 win.
For the Ducks, Emery’s arrival came at just the right time. Starting goaltender Jonas Hiller has been suffering from vertigo and related symptoms, and former backup goalie Curtis McElhinney was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning last month in exchange for Dan Ellis. Emery has been solid in the goaltender shuffle, going 3-0-0 in three starts so far, with a GAA of 1.51.
With Hiller’s imminent return, there is no guarantee on how much ice time Emery will see during the remainder of the season. The Ducks are attempting to clinch a playoff spot, and the organization may want to stick with Hiller, who had been solid for them up until his injury sidelined him. However, they may want to give Emery some more experience before the playoffs, to have two solid goaltenders available for the team’s journey to the Cup.
Whether Emery gets a lot of ice time now, or next season, he is definitely someone to keep an eye on. His comeback story is remarkable. His determination and his passion for the game is something that every NHL-er should live by.
Every player’s dream is to hoist the Stanley Cup over his head, and Emery is no different. However, Emery’s dream - playing hockey again - has already come true. A Stanley Cup victory would just be icing on the cake.