Plucky Peca vows to return

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:11 AM ET

Clutching his crutches for support, Michael Peca hobbled out of Lakeshore Lions Area and into the awaiting sea of autograph seekers in the adjoining parking lot.

Seeing Peca limp away yesterday afternoon hardly conjured up images of the centre being back in blue and white this season.

Yet that is exactly what he expects to happen.

"I'll play again this year," he said.

Injured during a knee-on-knee hit from the Chicago Blackhawks' Jim Vandermeer on Friday, Peca sustained a fractured tibial plate, the area in which the top of the shin bone meets the knee. There also was meniscus damage.

Coach Paul Maurice and some Leafs players questioned Vandermeer's tactics on the play, one which Peca subsequently has watched on tape.

"There was nothing wrong with (the hit)," Peca said, refusing to blame Vandermeer for what some observers saw as a cheap shot.

Doctors inserted a plate and screws into the knee during a surgical procedure Saturday, then told Peca he can not put full weight on the leg for six weeks. The initial diagnosis suggested he would be out for three months, but Peca obviously wants to be back before that.

"I'm focussed on rehab," he said. "I've been dealing with a lot of pain, so getting through the first couple of weeks will be important.

"I got to do some exercises with (the leg) today. It's progressing to the point where I am starting to feel good about myself and the outlook of the nature of the injury."

In other words, it will not be long before Peca, 32, gets a better gauge on how the injury is healing.

"I don't think it's months, I think it'll be weeks," he said. "There are a lot things going on within my rehab that will dictate the progress of how quick or how slow it is going. Outside of the first week or so, there really is not much to say.

"TSN (recently) had a list of top 10 comebacks. Half or more were guys coming back from severe leg injuries."

Peca said his condition was not bad enough to spoil the holiday season for himself and his family.

CHALLENGE

"It was good," he said. "I still got the chance to enjoy some of the things Christmas is all about. Being hurt didn't bother that too much.

"Either way it's a challenge, no matter how severe the injury."

If his leg was as strong as his determination, there would be no doubt that Peca would be playing for the Leafs prior to the post-season.

However, the jury still is out on that possibility.


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