Michael Rupp, who scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal for the New Jersey Devils in 2003, underwent surgery in his native Cleveland on Tuesday to correct a heart defect.
The 26-year-old Columbus Blue Jackets' forward suffers from Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, an abnormality of the heart's electrical system, basically a racing heart, caused by an extra pathway between his upper and lower heart chambers.
He was born with it, but not diagnosed until after he was drafted 76th overall by New Jersey in 2000.
Rupp was put on the long-term injury list a few weeks ago when a fluttering heartbeat persisted overnight. Doctors told the 6-foot-5, 225-pounder he was a one-in-a-million risk to drop dead without warning.
After testing at the Cleveland Clinic, the 7 1/2-hour operation was done on Tuesday. Catheters were put up each groin, and another down his nose and throat, reaching his heart and destroying the tissue that hindered normal function.
"From a family standpoint, I'm just happy I'm not going to drop dead," Rupp said. "That's probably the best way to sum it up. And in the bigger picture, I'm not going to be told I can't play hockey. If (the procedures) are successful, I don't have to think about it again."
Rupp was awake the first 90 minutes of the operation.
"The pain wasn't overbearing, but the discomfort was consistent," he said.
"It can drive you crazy because you're strapped on what's essentially a tile floor, and it seems like forever. It felt like my heels and my butt were flattening out."