'I was fortunate'

RYAN PYETTE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:34 AM ET

Sam Gagner put on his hockey equipment for a team photo yesterday, but he is still waiting to get clearance to wear the gear again for practices and games with his London Knights teammates.

The 17-year-old forward and projected first-round NHL draft pick said he was feeling "much better" nearly two days after being checked into the boards by Otter Patrick Lee on Sunday night at Tullio Arena in Erie, Pa.

It marked a frightening moment for the Knights as the five-foot-11, 190-pound Gagner lay on the ice for several minutes before being carted off on a stretcher.

Gagner, who had scored immediately before being sent crashing into the end of the rink, was taken to hospital while Lee was assessed a match penalty for deliberate attempt to injure.

"I don't feel the same pain I did when it happened, that's for sure," Gagner, the OHL's fourth-leading scorer said. "I think I was fortunate because my shoulder and head both absorbed the same amount of impact. If it was just a shoulder or just the head that hit, I might be in trouble.

"I hope I don't have to miss any games, but I haven't heard anything final from the doctor yet."

Gagner said he remembers seeing the puck go in the Erie net and was about to raise his hands in celebration of his 30th goal this season when Lee drilled him.

"I've been able to watch the video of the play and I was in a pretty vulnerable position," Gagner said. "I knew he was backchecking on me, but I relaxed after the puck went in. If I was more hurt, I probably wouldn't have been able to watch (the video)."

The Otter told the Erie Times-News the hit wasn't intentional, but the Knights disagree.

Lee is in line for a two-game suspension but the OHL will review the tape to see if additional discipline is required.

"There was enough time after the goal that he (Lee) could've laid off," said Gagner's dad Dave, a Knights assistant coach. "That kind of stuff shouldn't be part of the game and I feel the same if it happened to any kid. We were all concerned but we got word that he (Sam) was coherent so that was a good sign. He went to the hospital for tests and he was much better (on Monday)."

London, which is chasing its fourth straight OHL regular season title, will play its final two games of the schedule (March 16 and 17) against Western Conference cellar-dwelling Erie. The playoff-bound Knights are concerned the last-place club will try to take key players out of their lineup right before the postseason starts.

"They ran our goalie (Steve Mason) three times -- two of them were bad," London GM Mark Hunter said. "What they did wasn't very nice. Sam didn't have a chance to protect himself on that play but there's not much you can do. We have to let the process run its course -- it's up to the league now. They decide what the penalties will be."

Many fights and melees followed the Gagner injury and the Mason collisions. Several of the Knights feel there's a rivalry between them and the Otters but they didn't think any ill will carried into Sunday's game from Jan. 12, when defenceman Todd Perry flattened Otters star Zach Torquato at the John Labatt Centre.

"They're a last-place team and they haven't been very good for a while so you can expect them to be frustrated out there," London forward Jordan Foreman said. "I think we're going to focus on playing hockey. You don't ever want to see someone taken off the ice on a stretcher but Sam's back in the room and he's smiling so it looks like he's going to be all right and we're happy about that."

Gagner's cohort, Pat Kane, is riding a 12-game goal scoring streak, the longest since Mike Harding scored in a dozen straight games for Peterborough in 1993. The league record is 19 games by ex-Pete Mike Ricci in 1988.

Kane, who has 51 goals in 47 games and has taken over the OHL points lead, has 23 goals in the 12-game streak.

While London waits for Gagner's status, defenceman Scott Aarssen (arm) and utility player David Jarram (shoulder) both returned for the 8-3 win over the Otters. Forward Josh Beaulieu remains day-to-day with a high ankle sprain.


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