A determined John Pohl gingerly untied his skate laces, careful not to show the outside world any signs that he might still be in pain from the high ankle sprain that has sidelined him for several weeks.
Such an injury does not hurt. Not really. Not compared to the excruciating pain of seeing your younger brother lying helplessly in a hospital bed recovering from brain surgery.
Deep down, John, 28, likely is still traumatized from the events of the past nine days, a period in which Tom Pohl, 23, suffered a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain after being checked into the boards during a game between his Minnesota Golden Gophers and Minnesota State Mankato on March 16.
John and his wife, longtime U.S. national team fixture Krissy Wendell, immediately headed to Minnesota to be with Tom last week. Fortunately for all concerned, Tom Pohl was released from hospital Friday, clearing the way for John to return to the Leafs.
While resuming practice with the team yesterday, John Pohl requested that media not ask him about the subject, choosing to forward his feelings in a printed statement instead.
"I want to thank management and the coaching staff for allowing me to take leave from the team the past several days," John Pohl said in the release. "My brother Tom is recovering at home now. My family and I would like to express our thanks to my teammates and the many people in Canada and the United States that have sent along well wishes."
This is not the first time John Pohl has been exposed to a serious hockey injury suffered by one of his brothers. Seven years ago, a similar frightening incident ended the career of his brother Mark.
"(Mark) went into the boards headfirst in the USHL in 2001 playing for the Tri-City Storm," Jim Pohl, the boys' father, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "His mother was at the game, so this is the second time through something like this for her. He was paralyzed for a time, a few hours."
"The first thing (Tom) said when he woke up," his dad recalled, "he thanked everybody for being there."
According to Jim, 59, Tom is "up and around" a bit, although he lacks energy. The Gophers even offered Tom to accompany them on the road for the team's upcoming NCAA Regional.
John Pohl, meanwhile, is trying to work his way back into the Leafs lineup. Coach Paul Maurice said he is still a ways away, meaning he might not see action before the end of the regular season.
Either way, John knows his own woes pale in comparison to what his brother Tom has been through.