On Tuesday, Joey Hishon was skating with the Colorado Avalanche’s Black Aces in Cleveland. Afterward, he was called into the coach’s office and given the news that he was being called up to the NHL.
“I can’t even explain the emotion,” said Hishon on Wednesday after practicing with the Avalanche. “Very anxious, very excited.”
The call-up meant much more than the team needing a new body in the lineup. Thursday’s Game 4 between the Avalanche and the Minnesota Wild will be Hishon’s first NHL game. It’s a debut that’s years in the making and one that was in serious doubt at one point in time.
During the opening game of the 2011 Memorial Cup, Hishon, playing for the Owen Sound Attack, took a hit to the head from Brayden McNabb of the Kootenay Ice. He would spend nearly two years trying to recover from the blow, at one point using the GryoStim chair, which Sidney Crosby famously was aided by during his concussion rehabiliation.
After about 10 months, Hishon eased his way back into the gym. He began to feel himself again, but he couldn't get over the hump. He felt about 80 per cent back. But because there was still debilitating neck pain, the last 20 per cent seemed insurmountable.
If Hishon were to give up, it would have been back then. He had read plenty on concussions and knew the longer he remained on the sidelines, the slimmer his chances were to return.
But he also talked to NHLers like Patrice Bergeron, Andy McDonald, Peter Mueller and Matthew Lombardi.
They, too, suffered concussions and had a similar message for Hishon."They basically told me to stick with it, stay positive and there would be a light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "I always believed someone was out there who would help me or the symptoms would clear."
In March of 2013, Hishon, a 2010 draft pick of the Avalanche, finally returned to the ice with the Lake Erie Monsters, Colorado’s AHL affiliate. Nine games in, he took another blow to the head and was shut down for the rest of the season.
After a summer of recovering, Hishon was back with the Monsters for the 2013-14 season, playing 50 games and registering 10 goals and 24 points. Thursday night, his comeback will be officially complete.
“I definitely took a different route than most guys do,” he said. “I missed a lot of time, but I’m feeling great right now.”
Jumping from the AHL to the NHL is one thing. Doing so during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, while making your NHL debut at the same time is an entirely different one.
“I’ve done a lot of mental preparation and different things to be ready for a situation like [this],” he said. “The coaching staff and training staff down in Cleveland talked to you a lot and tries to keep you as ready as you possibly can be for a situation like this to happen.”
Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy knows a thing or two about being a rookie in the playoffs and is confident Hishon will make the most of his chance.
“It ain’t gonna be easy for him,” said Roy. “You don’t always pick the right time. [If] it happens, it happens.
“This is an opportunity for him. Joey’s dream is to play in the NHL one day. Here it is. He’s having a chance to do it and with our situation, why not?”
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