Injury woes just Devilish

SCOTT FISHER -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

Lake Bonavista is a long way from The Show. It's a place where dreams are born.

Youngsters gather on the frozen pond every weekend, lace on the blades and fantasize about future NHL careers.

Last weekend was no different.

Except for that one kid -- quite a bit bigger, faster and stronger than the other tykes.

His future is now.

Adrian Foster, a first-round draft pick of the New Jersey Devils, was out on the lake trying to shake out the cobwebs from an early-season concussion.

"It's kind of funny," the 24-year-old Calgarian says. "I started skating out on the lake with my dad when I was a kid.

"And now, I have no business being in Calgary at this point. But here I am, back on the lake trying to get my legs underneath me a little bit."

Foster's career began with so much promise.

Along with teammates Dany Heatley (Ottawa Senators), Krys Kolanos (Phoenix Coyotes) and Ben Knopp (drafted by Columbus), Foster was part of a 1998 Calgary Buffaloes midget squad considered to be among the best the city has ever produced.

He was named top forward at the Air Canada Cup national championship but suffered a season-ending hip injury the following season with the AJHL's Calgary Canucks.

But a lingering abdominal injury ruined what could have been a brilliant WHL career with the Saskatoon Blades, who took him third overall in the bantam draft.

He played in just 12 games over two seasons before the Devils selected him 28th overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.

His abdominal injury was finally properly diagnosed and surgically repaired and Foster played in 95 games with the AHL's Albany River Rats the past two seasons.

Last fall, the speedy centre felt he was ready to crack the Devils' roster. But a concussion two games into Albany's season has him on the sidelines again and wondering if someone has put a hex on him.

"I think someone is putting pins in (a doll)," he says with a chuckle. "Maybe I need to start going to church or something. I'm not really a religious person but I believe things happen for a reason. I think all of this is going to make me a better hockey player and a better person."

Still suffering from post-concussion syndrome, Foster returned to his parents' Lake Bonavista home prior to Christmas.

"I thought I'd come home and let my family take care of me," he says. "I couldn't be in a social situation. If I was in a room with two people talking, it would drive me bananas.

"I had trouble following any movement, there were headaches. And it wasn't getting any better."

He went to Vancouver where a physiotherapist discovered most of Foster's discomfort was caused by his neck.

"It's a lot like the injury (Matthew) Lombardi had with the Flames," he says. "It's frustrating. You feel useless because you can't do much."

The symptoms have subsided in recent weeks, allowing Foster to go from walking to jogging to skating.

He plans to return to Albany this week, practise with the team and, if all goes well, get back into the lineup before the end of the season.

"I was playing my best hockey in a long time back in training camp," Foster says. "There were a lot of young players coming into the league and I felt it was my time to shine. With the new rules, it's the guys who can skate who do well and that's my game. I'm looking forward to getting back in the team atmosphere."

It has been tough sitting on the sidelines while former teammates like Heatley have gone on to star in the NHL.

"Dany and I, we used to push each other to be better players," he says of their early years in Calgary. "He's excelled at every level he's played at. I like to see people I know succeed because I know how tough it is.

"I'm not a flash in the pan. The injuries are something I couldn't control. But if you look at someone like (Martin) St. Louis. He wasn't a regular in the NHL until he was older. Hopefully, that's something I'm able to do."


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