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Ray Emery appreciates new lease on his hockey life after hip surgery

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Goaltender Ray Emery, who signed with the Ducks on Monday and was assigned to Syracuse of the American Hockey League after he cleared waivers on Tuesday, said he felt “lucky to be back” after undergoing surgery to graft part of his right fibula onto his femur to restore blood supply to his ailing hip.

Emery, 28, had avascular necrosis — the same condition that afflicted multi-sport standout Bo Jackson. The blood flow to the top of Emery’s right hip had been cut off, leading the bone to deteriorate. He underwent surgery in April and spent several months on crutches but has recently been training and working out with the junior-level Brampton Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League.

Immigration paperwork will delay his debut for the Crunch, but he said Tuesday he hopes to get on the ice this weekend.

Signing Emery to a two-way deal minimizes the financial risk for the Ducks. It should give them depth at the minor league level and give him a chance to prove he’s physically and emotionally ready to resume a career that has been dotted with almost as many blots of off-ice missteps as moments of brilliance.

“It’s kind of one continuous journey. There’s been some tests along the way. You learn from everything,” Emery said Tuesday during a conference call with reporters. “I’ve made a few mistakes and had a few setbacks, but I wouldn’t take it back just because after going through something you know exactly how to take that situation and you can build on all those big steps.

“I’m really excited to be back and definitely I appreciate things more. I appreciate my body more, knowing that it’s not always going to be there for me and having that scare of thinking I might have played my last game.”

Ducks General Manager Bob Murray emphasized the move was to help Syracuse and not to threaten Ducks incumbents Jonas Hiller and Curtis McElhinney. Hiller, who has suffered from lightheadedness and played only part of one game since returning from the All-Star game, accompanied the Ducks on a three-game trip that begins Wednesday in Vancouver, though it’s unclear whether he will start against the Canucks.

Murray said the organization's young goalies “haven’t taken the step we thought they would,” and said signing Emery for a contract that will pay a prorated $500,000 salary in the NHL and $105,000 in the AHL was a “win-win” for both sides.

“He’s a competitor. He always has been a competitor,” Murray said. “He’s obviously had some problems in the past, but from all of our background work I think he’s grown up a whole bunch in the last couple of years.”

Emery was forced to mature after undergoing the surgery and facing doubts from the first trainer he met and some doctors.

“They weren’t very positive and it put a little scare in me,” he said, “but I think that only motivated me more to surpass their expectations and in both those cases I definitely did. And now they’re on my side thinking that this is going to be a good thing and seeing no reason why I can’t come back strong.”

He said he had been working out with his goalie coach, Eli Wilson, and a trainer in addition to facing shots from junior players. “I feel good,” he said. “I feel like I need some professional shooters and professional practices.”

He also said while he has matured he maintains his old fire. "I realize when it's a good thing and when it's not now," he said. "In no way, shape or form am I going to stop playing to win games or stop trying to be the most intense guy on the ice, because that's just the way I know how to play. At the same time, I know when to turn it off and when it's not in my best interest to be overly competitive or getting frustrated and showing those things. I think I just have a better balance on it right now.

"But I'm still a sore loser. I still go out there to win every game and I won't apologize for being that way, but I also won't let it get in my way either, in the way of distractions and issues that don't need to come up."

-- Helene Elliott

Photo: Philadelphia's Ray Emery makes the stop on a shot by Carolina's Chad LaRose in 2009. Credit: Gerry Broome / Associated Press

 
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