Suddenly, unexpectedly, you go from blazing down the ice to not being able to get yourself from the living room to the bathroom on your own.
Call it a reality check.
One that Joffrey Lupul knows all too well.
Because, not so long ago, Joffrey Lupul was practically a cripple.
“For two weeks I couldn’t walk,” Lupul told the Toronto Sun on Thursday. “That’s really eye-opening, to put it mildly.
“You don’t know if you’ll ever play again, even if you’ll ever be able to live a normal life again. There was so much pain, so much uncertainty.”
How bad was it?
“Ask Randy Carlyle,” Lupul said. “He was there. He saw.”
It was the 2009-10 season and Lupul, having played just 23 games for Carlyle’s Anahem Ducks, experienced back issues which soon led to an infection. With doctors working feverishly to find a solution, Lupul would miss the next 82 games before lacing up the blades again midway through the 2010-11 campaign.
“It was bad,” Carlyle said. “He was hunched over. He couldn’t stand upright. He had a hard time just moving. And he dropped about 20 pounds.”
Lupul claims that, at one point, he actually shed about 40. Whatever the case, you get the picture.
Either way, Lupul was in bad shape. In fact, for a better part of a month, Joffrey Lupul was practically a cripple.
“I was just having numbness down my right leg and they went in for what is a fairly routine procedure now,” Lupul explained.
Fairly routine? Not in this instance.
“It was just a discectomy, when they go in and basically take a piece off and alleviate the nerves along the spine,” Lupul said. “Something went wrong, so I had to get it done a second time.
“The major problem after that was I developed an infection in the bone and that took a long time to get rid of. It was eight weeks of IV antibiotics.”
And, he added, a lot of time in bed.
“It certainly puts things in perspective, that’s for sure, because there were a lot of days — five, six, seven months after my second surgery — when I still wasn’t back training. It’s kind of an eye-opener. At first, I felt just fortunate to be back playing.”
More than a year later, Lupul’s goals have changed. Still out with a wonky shoulder that he separated earlier this month, he has nonetheless set the bar higher for a career he not-so-long-ago didn’t know would still exist.
“I’ve definitely switched my focus from ‘Happy to be here’ to ‘Let’s get back on track and become the type of player that I can be,’” he said.
Keeping all this in mind, it is incredible how far Lupul has come in such a short time.
Having gratefully recovered from those devastating injuries, Lupul was dealt by the Ducks to the Leafs 13 months ago in a trade that sent defenceman Francois Beauchemin west. At the time, most observers figured Lupul, because of his hefty contract and uncertain future, was a mere salary dump by the Ducks, one the Leafs gladly absorbed in order to get promising defence prospect Jake Gardiner as part of the deal.
But, for a guy that was considered a mere throw-in, Lupul turned out to be a centrepiece. Up until the time of his recent shoulder ailment, he was in the top 10 in league scoring with a career-best 54 points, showed outstanding chemistry on the team’s first line with Phil Kessel, and ended up being an assistant captain on Team Chara during the NHL all-star game in Ottawa in late January.
On Thursday, Lupul’s courageous two-year climb back to hockey prominence was fittingly acknowledged when he was named the Leafs’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy, awarded to the player who exhibits ‘perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.’
“A very worthy honour,” Carlyle said.
Given that Joffrey Lupul was once practically a cripple, a very deserving honour at that.