Berard feels for Mats

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

For those of us on hand at the Corel Centre 67 months ago when Bryan Berard lay crumpled on the ice in a pool of his own blood, the Mats Sundin incident earlier this week was like deja vu.

Even Berard admits the sight of Sundin writhing in pain Wednesday must have ignited eerie memories of his own horrifying injury for those players, media and fans who were in attendance in Ottawa back on March 11, 2000.

"I'm sure even Mats himself had a flashback of my injury when he first was struck," Berard said yesterday in Columbus. "We were very close. I hope he's okay."

Now a defenceman with the Blue Jackets, Berard hopes to call Sundin in the coming days to offer help, advice and friendship.

If anyone can lift the spirits of the Maple Leafs captain, it's Berard. He knows from personal experience the road ahead, while difficult, can be navigated.

Most figured Berard's career was done after Marian Hossa's stick accidentally pitchforked the young defenceman in the right eye. Doctors actually considered removing the eye before alternative treatments were determined to be the way to go.

Sundin was on the ice when Berard went down. Darcy Tucker and Tie Domi were there, too, and both said Wednesday that Sundin's plight served as a haunting reminder of that fateful night in the nation's capital.

"I know Mats really well, but no matter who the player is, that's the last thing you want to see," Berard said. "An eye injury ... well, it's a tough injury."

Sundin fractured the left orbital bone after a puck smacked him around his eye in the first period of the Leafs' 3-2 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday.

Upon viewing the replay, Berard instantly knew the ailment was serious.

"Seeing his initial reaction, you could see he was definitely nervous," Berard said.

"With an eye injury, you've got the blood factor. Sometimes you don't see right away and that's scary."

Nevertheless, Berard's stance on visors remains the same.

"We're pro athletes, and the choice should be ours," he said. "I have to wear one (for medical reasons) but I hope (the NHL) does not make them mandatory.

"Growing up wearing a cage, you could hit people with your face like it was a weapon."

SYMPATHETIC SEN

Dany Heatley can sympathize first-hand with what the Maple Leafs captain is going through.

Last November Heatley sustained a fractured left orbital bone of his own during a Swiss league game in Bern. He also suffered internal bleeding in the eye.

"It's a tough injury because they can't tell what is going on inside your eye right away and they don't really know much for a week or two," he said yesterday.

"There's really not much (Mats) is going to be able to do. It is going to take a while and you never know how long because it's the eye.

"Hopefully for him, everything is going to be okay."

Heatley, who was wearing a small visor at the time of his injury, said it takes time for one's vision to adjust.

"This is tough because you can't see anything for the first week or two and then everything is blurry for a while. It's an injury that takes a while to recover from."

Heatley, by the way, insists his own vision is fine.

SHOOTOUT SUPPORTER

Don't lump three-time Stanley Cup winner Martin Brodeur in with all those goalies across the league who continue to whine about the implementation of shootouts.

"I'm all for it as far as the amount of entertainment it brings to fans," Brodeur said.

"Look, I had 11 ties (in '03-04). With the shootout, I could potentially get six wins out of those now. And if you lose, goalies don't get saddled with the loss."

Entering last night's game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Brodeur, 33, had 404 career victories, 147 behind career leader Patrick Roy.

Brodeur, who figures NHL shootouts are good practice for the coming Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, was asked by the Toronto Sun to rank the four toughest NHL players to face in the recently adopted format.

1. Jaromir Jagr (Rangers): "He's so creative. He's able to make moves and shoot the puck from anywhere."

2. Mario Lemieux (Penguins): "His reach is amazing. He can go from Point A to Point B in a split second."

3. Markus Naslund (Canucks): "A combination of the previous two. He can be fast and deceptive or slow and calculating."

4. Steve Sullivan (Predators): "Maybe a surprise pick to some. But he has so much speed, he's difficult to read."

WOUNDED CATS

Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts are gritty warriors in their own right, but the injury bug already has slowed the ex-Leafs down at times during their brief stints with the Florida Panthers.

Nieuwendyk missed three days of practice and the final pre-season game last weekend with a hip flexor injury, while Roberts took three days off with a groin problem that he aggravated in the opener Wednesday, leaving after two periods when he got his skate caught in a rut on the mushy Florida ice.

Both, however, were in the lineup last night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Panthers strength and conditioning coach Andy O'Brien, who was Sidney Crosby's personal trainer the past five years, said the problems are understandable in that both were away from the game for 16 months during the lockout.

"Joe and Gary work very hard on their fitness so it's not that they're not fit," O'Brien said. "The adjustment is more in the sense that they were doing off-ice stuff as opposed to on-ice stuff. It's a challenge; when you go on the ice your body has to adapt.

"The muscles are breaking down because it's a horizontal movement; everything you do off the ice is a vertical movement. Their bodies are using muscles in a different way than they normally do off the ice."

Health permitting, Nieuwendyk and Roberts will make their first visit to the Air Canada Centre as Panthers Oct. 31 -- Halloween night.


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