Returning to the Boston Bruins lineup last night wouldn't have been such a big deal for Phil Kessel.
Except that he was diagnosed with testicular cancer a month ago.
Somewhere in a living room in Madison, Wisconsin, Kessel's mother Kathy and father Phil Sr. were watching the game on the satellite dish as the 19-year-old Boston Bruins centre returned to action against the Senators at Scotiabank Place.
When Kessel first discovered a lump that was surgically removed last month, it seemed unlikely he'd return this quickly. But there he was -- playing between Petr Tenkrat and Stanislav Chistov.
"Just to see him back on the ice was really rewarding for me and for his teammates," said Boston coach Dave Lewis.
"He's persevered. He's shown a lot about his character with his speedy recovery and his determination once he found out about it. That tells us a lot about this young man."
Kessel, Boston's No. 1 pick (fifth overall) in the 2006 NHL draft, was fortunate. He had surgery on Dec. 12, practised with his teammates 10 days ago and played two games with the club's AHL affiliate in Providence on the weekend.
With 10:11 left in the first period last night, the fans gave Kessel a nice round of applause as the scoreboard showed him circling the ice for his third shift of the game with the words: "Welcome Back Phil Kessel." Seconds later, Kessel was hammered with a check by Ottawa defenceman Joe Corvo. Kessel probably didn't mind, not after what he's been through.
"It's remarkable Phil has returned within a month of having cancer surgery," said Kessel's agent Wade Arnott. "I can't say I'm surprised because when he found out the cancer was curable and that it was localized, it was a high priority for him to get back with Boston as quickly as possible."
Trying to ensure the youngster focused on getting ready to play, the Bruins public relations staff asked the media not to speak with Kessel after the morning skate and reporters respected the request.
Last week, Kessel had a chat with Toronto assistant Keith Acton, who has been through a bout of testicular cancer.
"(Kessel's) been handling this really well," said Boston winger P.J. Axelsson. "He's a positive guy. He's happy to be back. It's not fun. It was tough on everybody."
"Yes, I'm surprised that he's been able to get back as quickly as he has. That's a credit to (Kessel). He worked really, really hard to get back," said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. "He's fortunate. We found out about the cancer really early and that's allowed him to come back."I watched him the other night (in Manchester) and he was flying. To see him go from the point where he was diagnosed with cancer to coming back was very gratifying."
AROUND THE BOARDS: C Antoine Vermette is hoping to return tomorrow against the Rangers. "I was frustrated on the weekend because I felt I had a setback, but I felt good out there today," said Vermette, who has a hip injury. "It's a good feeling. I had a couple of days there where it didn't feel good." Mike Fisher and Jason Spezza (both with knee injuries) were on the ice, but they won't be back for at least two weeks ... Boston D Zdeno Chara is out with a hip injury and isn't expected to play this week. He did have acupuncture yesterday in Beantown and was on the ice ... The Bruins are listening to offers for D Brad Stuart, but they have opened contract talks with his agent to see if they can get a deal done.