The first time Ramzi Abid tore his ACL, he assumed he would return to the NHL.
When it happened a second time, his optimism ceased. While he lay on Edmonton’s ice in a Pittsburgh Penguins uniform on Dec. 6, 2003, Abid didn’t need a doctor to diagnose him. He knew his right knee was torn again.
Doubt, fear, pain … it all swept over him.
He understood the obstacles ahead. He had surgery only nine months before for the same injury. He realized the effort required for rehab, and he wondered if he’d ever be the same player again.
Abid dismissed all his worries when he had made his comeback. He started showing signs of being the up-and-coming star everyone expected. He even scored Pittsburgh’s game-winner that Dec. 1 and had an assist shortly before he went down with the ACL tear.
He realized the second time around wouldn’t be the same, and he considered his NHL days to be over.
As quickly as all those thoughts raced through his mind that evening, they revisited Abid with the same such speed earlier this month. It wasn’t misery that awoke the memories again. Donning an Atlanta Thrashers jersey Jan. 6, Abid took a moment to reflect on where he had been just two years previous to where he stood at that second.
It was then he took to the ice in his NHL return.
The Thrashers have since sent him back to the Chicago Wolves, recalled him and demoted him again. Unlike when he suffered his last injury, though, Abid isn’t bidding farewell to the NHL.
It’s more like, "I’ll see you again soon."
The Wolves’ opponents probably wish Abid would leave. In his last 11 games before the All-Star break, he had scored nine goals and dished out 12 assists.
While Abid was an offensive threat before his NHL promotion, his teammates have noticed he has been even better since his return to Chicago.
"It’s just the confidence of being called up," Wolves defenseman Mark Popovic said. "It seems like everything he touches turns into a goal."
For the season, Abid leads the team with 23 goals and 25 assists. The only thing keeping Abid off Atlanta’s roster is its abundance of playmakers. Abid was called up twice last month when the Thrashers lost an offensive player due to injury. He picked up a point in both stints.
In his first NHL game back, he played against the Penguins and notched an assist in the opening period.
"The first game was really rewarding," said the 25-year-old Abid. "It made all the hard work and rehabbing pay off."
After the second injury, he had a different surgeon operate on his knee. He also decided it was in his best interest to not rush the process, and he took an extra three months to rehab.
When last season’s NHL lockout occurred, Abid used it as an opportunity to rebuild his confidence in his knee and his game while playing with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He scored 26 goals and had 55 points in 78 games.
Two days after he became a free agent, he signed with the Thrashers. He had hoped to make the NHL roster after training camp but was assigned to the Wolves.
Not long after arriving here, he told Wolves coach John Anderson he wanted to help more on defense and assist with the penalty-killing. Anderson suggested otherwise.
"I told him, ‘You need to concentrate on being an offensive player,’" Anderson said. "You can’t expect to score 25 goals and go to the National League. You need to score 35 or 40 goals. We’ve had two lengthy discussions about it. He’s taken to heart what I said."
Anderson has compared Abid with former Wolves star Steve Maltais. Abid can beat a goalie in the blink of an eye with his slap shot. He also plays a physical game and is able to create space for himself and his teammates.
While Abid’s career isn’t where he had hoped at this stage, he did gain something through all the adversity. It’s what has made his success the third time around even more meaningful.
"The motivation of when you’re out that long – I was out probably a total of 12 to 14 months – you realize you love the game and feel fortunate to play hockey for a living," he said.
"Since then, I really enjoy it and have fun out there. Hockey players’ careers don’t last a lifetime. You have to make the best of it and have no regrets."
Scott Powers covers the Wolves for the Daily Herald.