With 4:31 remaining in the second period of Monday night’s game between the Jets and the Blues, the Winnipeg Jets organization and its fans collectively held their breath. After getting tied up with Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, Jets leading scorer Blake Wheeler went crashing leg first into the post.
Jets fans feared for the worst; a bone bruise, or even worse, a broken leg. At a time when Winnipeg’s Hockey Club was in the middle of a five (soon to become six) game losing streak, they couldn’t afford to lose their leading scorer.
But Wheeler did what he always does, he toughed it out, got up, and continued his shift. To the shock of many, Wheeler appeared fine and continued to give everything he had for the rest of the game.
This isn’t the first time since the return of the Jets that Wheeler has had a close call with injury. The Minnesota native has been extremely durable, playing in 308 of a possible 313 games over the last five seasons. That is a remarkable feat considering the day to day grind and the physical play of the NHL. Only 19 other players have played more games than him in that time span.
At 6 foot 5 inches, Wheeler plays a fast, physical game which inevitably will lead to a few high speed collisions. One of those happened on March 24, 2015 in Dallas when he was checked into the bench door that was not properly secured.
Again, Jets fans feared the worst, it could have been a separated shoulder, a broken collarbone or even internal bleeding. Wheeler left the game briefly and miraculously returned.
A year earlier on March 24, 2014, Wheeler used his stick to block a shot from Oilers defenseman Nikita Nikitin. Unfortunately, the puck bounced up the shaft of Wheeler’s stick and directly into his mouth. Wheeler had to leave the game, but returned with a full cage and played again the next night. The end result was: two front teeth knocked out and twenty stitches to close a big cut.
Wheeler described the incident to Ed Tait of the Winnipeg Free Press
“It’s not bad. It could have been a lot worse. I was lucky the way it turned out, the way the teeth came out was probably a blessing because they were able to stick them back in. Hopefully they take back in there.”
“I think (my teeth) were stuck in my mouthguard. You don’t realize how big teeth are until they come out.”
“It was weird. It takes a little bit of time to get 20-some stitches. I was ready to get back in there but they had to stitch me back up and piece me back together literally. We were lucky to have one of our docs on the road and he was literally piecing me back together.”
The first time Wheeler had to miss a game with the Winnipeg Jets was after an incident on January 14, 2012 when a Petr Sykora shot hit him directly on the throat. Wheeler was taken out of the game only because he was taken to the hospital. If he could have, surely he would have played through the pain.
In the end , Wheeler only missed two games while in the hospital for observation. Tests revealed no damage to his throat or neck as the puck “barely missed his jugular and Adam’s Apple”. Upon his return, he acknowledged that he got extremely lucky
“The only good spot it could hit, it hit. So, I was pretty lucky. I think I was able to react just quick enough to kind of turn my head a little bit and it just missed the jugular.”
Wheeler has brought great speed, size and durability to the Winnipeg Jets over the last five seasons. He has shown he is able to withstand some of the most violent collisions that would likely put other players on the shelf for much longer. Let’s knock on wood that Wheeler can continue his incredible run of good health.
written by Michael Remis, Producer at TSN 1290 Winnipeg – find him on Twitter @mremis