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Looking good

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

Don Van Massenhoven expects to be back refereeing National Hockey League games Jan. 11.

In February, he expects to be in Turin, Italy, refereeing Olympic games.

And yet, less than three weeks ago he was lying on an operating table, the septum of his nose driven through his forehead resting on his brain. Another millimetre or so and Van Massenhoven would have been fighting for his life rather than prepping for a high-profile gig at the Olympics.

"The bone punctured the second wall of my skull and the surgical report said it was against the sac that protects the brain," Van Massenhoven said yesterday from his Strathroy home.

"Halfway through the surgery, at three or four in the morning (surgery that lasted more than seven hours), they stopped it and called the neurosurgeon because they were concerned about how the bone was sitting. It was right up against the brain."

The septum is the cartilage wall separating the two nostrils.

That's was just some of the damage done to Van Massenhoven's face when he was struck with a deflected puck that originated off the stick of Florida Panther Sean Hill.

Van Massenhoven had been in Florida since that Nov. 23 game. He spent three days in intensive care, another three days in hospital.

Van Massenhoven finally was able to come home, driving from Florida with wife Chris, arriving at his Strathroy home Monday night.

Considering the damage that can be done by a hard rubber puck travelling at 100 miles an hour, the amount of work done on his face, Van Massenhoven looks great.

The scar on his nose is noticeable and the nose is a little more crooked and flatter than before. There is some swelling around his eyes.

"It is remarkable," Van Massenhoven said. "Even the doctors are amazed about how quickly I've recovered."

Remarkable and amazing are understatements.

"Every time I visited the doctor, and I went every other day for two weeks, I'd get another tidbit of information," Van Massenhoven said.

In an effort to rebuild his forehead, nose and broken orbital bones, seven titanium plates were inserted in his face.

Body fat and tissue from his abdomen were used to rebuild his forehead, since the bone was shattered and had to be removed in pieces.

The right orbital bone was an open fracture, so they went through his right eye to place a plate there.

"The joke is I had a tummy tuck while in Florida," he said.

Van Massenhoven never lost consciousness, did not suffer a concussion and suffered no eye damage.

"I remember every single second," he said. "As I was lying on the table, I had my face covered with towels. Someone said 'Let's have a look.' I took the towel off and it got pretty quiet."

Van Massenhoven's wife, Chris, was called by linesman Brian Murphy, who did the game with Don.

"He told me it was a broken nose," Chris Van Massenhoven said. "Then he called back and said Don was going for a CAT scan and reconstructive surgery. I said 'It's more than a broken nose. Do I need to come come down?' He said I'd better."

Chris went to Florida with 17-year-old daughter Katie. Megan, their 14-year-old, wanted to go, but had to stay home. Before they left, they got a 7 a.m. call after Don was out of surgery.

"(The doctor) told me what they'd done. He said 'Now that's the bad news. The good news is that he's OK. His brain is OK.' Brain? I never thought of the brain. I was worried about his eyes, his teeth. But not his brain."

Van Massenhoven said there were two emotional challenges. The first came when he was told about the damage done and the need for surgery.

"I knew my wife was contacted," he said. "They told me about the bone near my brain. I'd never been put under for surgery. Normally, you have family with you. I wasn't afraid. I just wish my family was there. He wanted to know if I wanted to call Chris. I said 'No, just call her and tell her how successful the surgery was.' "

Van Massenhoven said his emotions bubbled to the surface the day after his surgery, when the letters, e-mails, phone calls and visitors started to flood in. He was moved by the actions of Murphy and second referee Dan O'Rourke, who did the game with him.

"It was Thanksgiving Day and my two colleagues with me were both Americans. We were all going to Thanksgiving in Tampa to (referee) Don Koharski's," Van Massenhoven said. "They ditched their flight and didn't go. They stayed with me from 10 in the morning until eight when they had to go to catch the last flight."

The NHL's Jim Gregory flew in to see him the next day. Panthers Joe Nieuwendyk visited. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called, as did Leaf coach Pat Quinn and New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello.

Jan. 11 is the target day for his return. Van Massenhoven has worked out twice, lightly. He's confident that getting ready for the Olympics won't be an issue. He'll ref some recreation and minor league hockey before January. He'll wear a visor as have "11 of my colleagues since the accident."

"I'm actually curious how I'll be around the puck," he said. "Someone said you'll get hit in the side of the head with the puck and think, 'Oh my God,' and then realize, 'That didn't do anything.'

"I'll take that."


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