An innocent play nearly cost Jozef Balej his livelihood.
Balej has been out of action since suffering a lacerated kidney in a game against the Hamilton Bulldogs on Jan. 7. The Manitoba Moose forward was at the MTS Centre yesterday watching practice and took time to recount the stressful experience.
"One of the doctors came up to me the night it happened, around midnight, and said 'I saw the CT scan and I don't think you're ever going to play hockey again,'" said Balej, who visited his AHL teammates in Hamilton on Jan. 29. "He said 'your kidney is totally crushed and you have internal bleeding. We might have to operate on you and take your kidney out.' I couldn't sleep all night. I was so worried."
Balej later met with a kidney specialist, who reassured him that the doctors were going to do everything they could to save his kidney.
The slick Slovakian flew back to Winnipeg from Ontario on Monday night and continues to deal with the lingering pain resulting from the injury.
At least it's not as bad as it was during the eight days in the hospital.
"I was in really bad pain, it was getting worse and worse every minute," said Balej, talking about when he arrived at the hospital. "I couldn't even walk so they put me in a chair. Overnight, I pretty much passed out because of the pain. They couldn't give me any morphine or anything because they didn't know what was wrong with me."
Among the more serious issues associated with Balej's injury were internal bleeding, a blood clot in his stomach and blood in his urine.
Doctors told Balej he is progressing, but it would not be a surprise if he was on the shelf for the remainder of the season.
For now, there is no timetable and Balej is doing his best to stay positive.
"I lost about 15 pounds in the hospital. I couldn't eat for five days and I was hooked up to IV the whole time," said Balej, who has another set of appointments next week. "I had no appetite."
Balej was playing some of his best hockey prior to the injury, but he's not focusing on any potential lost opportunities with the Moose or the parent Vancouver Canucks.
"You can't think about stuff like that. I was playing good and I might have gotten called up but it's unfortunate and health comes first," said Balej. "I hate not playing and it's been like a month. Hopefully, I can recover pretty fast."
Didn't look serious
The play itself didn't look all that serious at the time.
"I was going for the puck along the boards by the red-line. I was trying to dig it out, I was going full speed and I was going to move around the D-man," said Balej, who suffered the injury in the final minute of the opening period. "He kind of stuck his foot out and my stick got stuck in his skate or whatever and I ran full speed into my stick."
Balej's face was a welcome sight around the Moose locker-room.
"Obviously, it's good to see him. It's been quite an ordeal he's gone through in a really up-and-down season," said Moose captain Mike Keane. "He's gone from being called up to potentially not playing again this year. It's been tough on him. He's still a big part of this team, whether he plays or not."
MOOSE TRACKS: D Prestin Ryan was recalled by the Canucks yesterday and made his NHL debut against the St. Louis Blues, filling in for Steve McCarthy ... C Craig Darby missed practice with the flu ... RW Adam Keefe took a stick in the face from D Brett Skinner ... The Moose signed D Tyler Sloan to a PTO ... D Sven Butenschon is 60-40 to return for the weekend series with the Omaha Knights.