BROSSARD, Que. — Martin Reway was happy just to be on the ice with other prospects when the Montreal Canadiens opened rookie camp Thursday.
The 22-year-old Slovak missed a full season recovering from a heart problem, setting back the development of one of the most gifted players in the Canadiens’ system.
Reway would not say exactly what the illness was, other than it was a virus that put him in hospital for a month and required most of a year to overcome.
“After a long time, it’s a great opportunity for me to be back,” the 5-foot-8, 170-pound forward said. “I know it’s going to be difficult to get on track again but I’m working hard in practice here, trying to get better and I’m hoping it’s going to go as quickly as possible.”
The Canadiens are just as anxious to see what effect a year off has had on Reway, who dazzled while leading underdog Slovakia to a bronze medal at the 2015 world junior championship.
He was drafted in the fourth round in 2013, while he was putting up 112 points in 90 games over two seasons with the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He later played for Sparta Prague in the Czech Republic and had a short stint with Fribourg in Switzerland before falling ill.
Doctors found a problem during a routine checkup a week before Reway was to leave for the Canadiens’ rookie camp last summer.
“I didn’t feel well so they kept me there and found out I had a serious problem with the heart, so I had to rest,” he said. “I had high fever. It happened so quickly I don’t know. I wasn’t able to do any workouts or any movements in the first three or four months. When you’re a hockey player, you know how hard it is to stop doing what you love. I had to rest up for a bit. But when you come back, you’re more excited, I think.”
Reway spent the season resting and resuming the economics studies he’d let slide when he joined Gatineau. He described his year as a “bore,” adding “I hope I’m not going to have to study any more because I’m not interested. I spent more time with my family. That was the positive part of the virus.”
Now he wants to make up for lost time. Reway received the green light by Canadiens doctors to resume skating five weeks ago and was working out with a Slovak team before heading to camp.
On the first day, he didn’t look up to full speed but said his fitness will come gradually. He’s to take part in the main camp next week. It would be a longshot for him to make the NHL club this season, so he’s expected to begin the season with team’s AHL affiliate, which starting this season will be based nearby in Laval.
“I was surprised that my hands weren’t as bad as I expected,” he said. “Obviously, the legs, the cardio, weren’t that good, but that’s understandable after a year of not playing.
“Now I think it’s getting better every day that I’m on the ice. I believed all the time that I was going to come back. Sometimes in life, the things that happen to you, you can’t change. You have to fight it. I’m really happy I came through. It’s a good experience for me and I hope nobody’s going to see the difference.”
Reway said no longer needs to take medication and is confident there should be no further problems with his heart.
Reway was among 23 prospects in camp. They leave Friday for a rookie tournament in Toronto against Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators hopefuls.