DETROIT — Having his appendix removed just as the Stanley Cup final was approaching was more than a pain in the side for Detroit Red Wings rookie defenceman Jonathan Ericsson.
After three seasons spent mostly with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins, the 25-year-old was finally getting a chance to play regularly in important games for the Red Wings.
But on the morning of Game 5 of the NHL Western Conference final against Chicago, Ericsson was in severe pain and knew what it was — an appendix problem that had flared up three times previously in the past three years.
He was taken to hospital, had the inflamed organ surgically removed and was back at the rink that night, although only to watch his teammates sew up a second straight trip to the Stanley Cup final.
“It was bad timing, but I needed it,” Ericsson said this week. “It feels pretty good now.”
Good enough that Ericsson was able to play in Game 1 of the final, logging more than 16 minutes and going plus-1 in Detroit’s 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Ericsson said his appendix first flared up in 2005, just as he was about to leave Sweden to attend his first Red Wings camp. Doctors there told him his recovery time would be up to six weeks and he didn’t want to miss camp, so he had it treated with medication and the problem went away.
It returned twice more after that, but not as severely and he put off having the appendix removed again.
But this time, there was no choice.
“I was in hospital in Sweden once and they were going to take it out,” he said. “But in Sweden they don’t have as good instruments for making the procedure as easy as here, so the healing process was going to be a month, or a month and a half, and I decided not to.
“It was time to take it out. I was sick of dealing with this. Now I don’t have to worry about it again.”
Quick returns from appendectomies have happened before.
While with the Montreal Canadiens in 1994, Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy missed one game while he had his appendix removed during the first round of playoffs. He returned to post a 39-save win in the next game, although the Canadiens lost the series to Boston in seven games.
Earlier this season, Detroit’s Andreas Lilja missed two games after a bout of appendicitis.
But those were established NHL players. Ericsson has played only 27 career regular-season games. He got his break when Lilja was injured in March and since then has become a mainstay on the third defence pair with Brett Lebda in the playoffs.
In another organization, a six-foot-five 206-pound defenceman with Ericsson’s skills would have been playing regularly in the NHL long ago. But the Red Wings bring prospects along slowly.