SUN Hockey Pool

The end's in sight for Reasoner

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

At long last, Marty Reasoner has a target date to mark the end of an ordeal that began against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre more than a year ago. Reasoner and the Edmonton Oilers medical staff have circled Dec. 15 on the calendar - pending unforeseen setbacks with his surgically-repaired right knee - as the day he'll be deemed healthy and ready to play.

That'll make it 404 days since Reasoner slammed into the end boards Nov. 8, 2003, while contesting an icing call with Bryan Marchment in an incident that snapped his left ankle and so badly crushed his knee cartilage it took two surgeries to repair the damage.

The end is in sight, even if, somewhat ironically, there isn't an NHL season waiting for Reasoner as a reward for 13 months of rehab and so much uncertainty over his future.

"It's nice to be at a point where we can sort of set a time when I'd be considered ready to play," Reasoner said after skating at Rexall Place yesterday.

It's been one step forward and two steps backs so many times in trying to overcome the injury, Reasoner has been reluctant to pinpoint a date.

Now, after two months skating with Edmonton Road Runners and countless hours of work in the gym and doing rehab under the supervision of Dr. Dave Magee, athletic therapist Ken Lowe and fitness consultant Daryl Duke, the 27-year-old is almost ready to go.

Reasoner, who missed 65 games last season, won't play with the Road Runners, as speculated, to test the knee once he's cleared.

"Like I've said before, I'm probably one of the few players the lockout has been good for," Reasoner said.

"It's been really good for me in that I've been able to take the time, get my strength back and be confident I'll be ready to go whenever it is we do start playing."

Reasoner actually played four games after having a screw inserted in his ankle and an arthroscopy on his knee before a follow-up examination led to the knee being scoped a second time by Dr. David Reid.

"I can vividly remember Dr. Reid saying he'd never seen a meniscus crushed like that before," Lowe said. "He did a lot of trauma to the joint."

Reasoner held out hope at the end of last season he'd be ready to go if the Oilers made the playoffs, but, it turns out, that was optimism to the extreme on his part.

"You don't really know," Lowe said of making an accurate prognosis. "At first, we said it would be four to six weeks. It's been a year.

"We understand tissue, but we never understood that the bones take that much time. What I do know is I admire Marty for how he's worked through this."

Once cleared, Reasoner will no longer draw paycheques on his $800,000 salary - players injured last season are paid during the NHL lockout - but that's the least of his worries.

"I'd give the all the money back from this year for a full season of health last year," said Reasoner, who'll have received about $246,000 before taxes by Dec. 15.

"To be able to have played, to have contributed to the team and to have been a part of it, I'd give it back in a second."

EASING IN: Jesse Niinimaki hasn't made much of a splash in his first three games with the Road Runners since arriving from Finland, but he's being eased into the fold.

Niinimaki, 21, selected in the first round, 15th overall, by the Oilers in the 2002 Entry Draft, has no points and is a minus-1 in limited playing time.

"We want to be patient and make sure that he gets used to our systems," coach Geoff Ward said. "This is his first full week of practices with us."

Signed to an AHL contract Nov. 4, Niinimaki made his debut in Hamilton Nov. 17 after spending a week working out at Rexall Place at the start of the team's last road trip.

Ward and assistants Joe Paterson and Kelly Buchberger are working with Niinimaki and trying to ease the transition to a new city, new teammates and a new league after four seasons with Ilves Tampere.

"Jesse just has to be Jesse," Ward said. "Just bring his strengths to the game. There's no time line. We're not going to put a lot of pressure on him. We want him to get comfortable with North America and comfortable with what we expect on the ice. From there, the learning curve comes a little more quickly."


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