There was one thing Steve Sullivan didn't learn how to do during his 23-month absence from the National Hockey League.
When it was announced that Sullivan had scored the opening goal in the Nashville Predators' 2-0 victory over the Maple Leafs last night, the crowd gave him a nice ovation. And why not? It was, after all, the first time Sullivan, 34, had found the back of the net in two years.
Or so everyone thought.
Everyone but Sullivan, that is.
"I knew right away it went in off Radek Bonk's (rump)," Sullivan said afterward. "It's hard to miss his rear end. I told the officials right away."
Sure enough, the fans were informed that the goal had been credited to Bonk. At least Sullivan was able to register his first point, an assist, in this, the second game of his NHL comeback.
"It was nice to contribute again," the Timmins native said, wearing a big smile.
Sullivan was just as happy about surviving an early bone-crunching hit from Luke Schenn, a litmus test for his surgically-repaired back.
"He got me good," Sullivan said. "I had no where to go. On the way down, I just thought 'I hope I feel as good on the way up.' "
Up in the stands, his father Ken and the rest of the Sullivan entourage from Timmins probably breathed a collective sigh of relief.
After all, it has been a long road back for his son, one that first started 10 years ago when, as a member of the Leafs, Steve first experienced back spasms.
On Feb. 22, 2007, Sullivan, with the Predators at the time, would lace 'em up against the Montreal Canadiens. It would be the last game he would play in almost two years, thanks to a dislocated disc in his back.
There were days the back was so bad, he had to crawl out of bed. He underwent two surgeries in 2007 but the doctors could not promise he would ever play again.
No matter. He kept slogging ahead toward a return. And on Saturday night, in a game against the Chicago Blackhawks, he did exactly that.
"I never take it for granted," he said. "After all, I love the game. I couldn't picture myself doing anything else.
"The doctors don't know. They haven't made any guarantees. I'm at the point now that if the back does give out, I have no regrets."