When New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal skated off the ice on March 5, his face a bloody mess from a gruesome injury after taking a puck to his right eye, not only was his future as a hockey player in doubt, but no one knew the severity of the damage to his eye.
The 26-year-old defenseman suffered a small tear in his right eye as well as an orbital fracture. He missed 27 regular-season games and 11 playoff games.
The good news: Staal believes he can come back and play at a high level as he was when he was injured. The bad news: Stall doubts that his eye will ever recover fully.
"It's probably not going to be 100 percent," Staal said in an interview with Newsday, "but that's not to say it's not going to get a lot better. It's still improving.
"Once everything settles down and I get comfortable with it, I'll never have to be asked about it again. I don't think it'll be an issue."
Staal said he immediately thought his career was over after taking a puck to the eye on a deflected slap shot by Philadelphia Flyers' Kimmo Timonen.
And then the reality of losing sight in his eye sunk in.
"Scary injury," he said. "One of the first things, when you're sitting on the table, going through your head is if you're going to be able to see again. I was fortunate it wasn't worse."
Staal was able to return for one game -- Game 3 of the Rangers' first-round series against the Washington Capitals.
But he struggled as his eye pressure would "spike and dip, and when it did, I would get disoriented. It was tough to get through practice, never mind trying to play in a game."
Staal, who now is in favor a players being mandated to wearing visors, said he was close to returning last week, but the Boston Bruins eliminated the Rangers.
"I was skating, I was starting to feel a little better on the ice and starting to come back to where I was feeling good and comfortable again," Staal said.