Pacioretty back playing to the Max

Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty skates during a pre-season game against the Lightning at the Bell...

Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty skates during a pre-season game against the Lightning at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Que., Sep. 29, 2011. (BEN POLOSSE/QMI Agency)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:23 AM ET

COLLINGWOOD, ONT. - As they carried Max Pacioretty’s limp body off the ice on a stretcher that fateful evening of March 8, the shocked capacity crowd at the Bell Centre wondered if the young Montreal Canadiens forward would ever live a normal life again, let alone play hockey.

In the end, so did he.

Having been slammed against the unforgiving divider partition at the end of the Boston bench by Bruins bad boy Zdeno Chara, Pacioretty was rushed to hospital with broken vertebra and a serious concussion after being involved in one of the most horrifying on-ice incidents in recent years.

Seven months later, here stood Pacioretty, looking remarkably healthy again, enjoying the beautiful sun-splashed Collingwood weather on Wednesday afternoon, enjoying the friendly banter with his teammates, enjoying the mere fact that he was back in the Canadiens’ fold again.

On Thursday night at the Air Canada Centre, Pacioretty will make an appearance in a National Hockey League regular season game for the first time since having his head splattered by Chara.

And after going through such a traumatic experience, he’s not about to take all of this for granted. Not in the least.

“I do appreciate that I’m back, I really do,” Pacioretty said. “I was pretty close to having all of this taken away from me. You don’t forget something like that.”

Pacioretty, 22, admits there will be butterflies churning in his gut when he steps onto the Air Canada Centre ice to face the Maple Leafs. Then again, with this being the curtain raiser on the 2011-12 regular season, he won’t be the only one wearing bleu, blanc and rouge who will be feeling that way.

All things considered, Pacioretty should consider himself fortunate that his recovery went so relatively quickly. Two days after being admitted into the emergency ward, he was released. By the time the Habs were facing off against the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs, he was back skating again. In the ensuing months, he built himself back into shape, claiming “it was the best (workout) off-season of my life” because of all the time he had to rehab.

In four exhibition appearances he scored two goals, all the while getting acclimatized again with the role of being an NHL player.

“It’s been crazy,” he chuckled. “But it’s a great feeling. I was a little nervous at first, my timing was off and there were a couple of bumps to my neck but, all and all, I felt more comfortable with every appearance,

“I’m ready.”

Upon his return, one of the first things that caught Pacioretty’s attention were the modifications the league made to the divider partition glass, an obvious attempt to keep another Pacioretty-type collision from ever happening again.

“I noticed it the most at the Bell Centre,” he said. “The curved glass is a great idea. I don’t know why they didn’t do it sooner.”

If they had, his injuries likely would have been prevented. Of course, as the old adage goes, hindsight is 20-20. The alterations to the glass at arenas around the league were not the only steps taken by the NHL to address safety concerns. There’s a new sheriff in town laying down the law around the league in the form of Brendan Shanahan and he’s been busy, suspending nine different players throughout the preseason, most for headshots.

“It’s good to see, but, at the same time, every hit seems to be in a grey area,” Pacioretty said. “Guys are going to have to learn what they can and cannot do.”

Chara was not suspended nor fined for the hit after the league’s disciplinarians decided that Pacioretty was the victim of bad luck. The Canadiens forward did admit on Thursday, however, that the Bruins captain has subsequently said sorry to him.

“He did reach me one time,” Pacioretty said of Chara. “He was apologetic and said he in no way was trying to injure me.

“There’s been closure. It’s time to move on.”

That might be difficult, given the media circus that will greet Pacioretty and the Canadiens on Oct. 27 when they meet the Bruins.

“It should be interesting,” he said.

Just like Thursday night at the ACC will be.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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