by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
The longest 20 minutes of wing Shane Willis‘ life officially ended when he left the ice and got medical attention in Peoria the night of Oct. 6, 2007.
Willis had been skating for Milwaukee in the Admirals’ opening game when he collided with a Rivermen player and took a blow to the side of his head. Willis felt an odd tingling in his hands and feet when he landed, but after several moments of concern a doctor in the dressing room told him that there was no issue of paralysis.
But in a larger sense, Willis’ 20 minutes of worry has stretched on for nearly 11 months now, and won’t really be put to rest until he takes the ice for a tryout in Columbus’ camp this preseason. That will be his first stretch of competitive hockey since that scary night in Peoria.
"That will be the question. Until they see me skating again, no one knows until that day," said Willis, 31. "I feel good about coming back and playing. That’s going to be key for me, getting doubts out of other people’s heads."
Those doubts are a season of inactivity in the making.
While Willis breathed the biggest sigh of relief by avoiding a life-changing injury on that hit, a subsequent MRI revealed a pre-existing problem. A bulging disc and a bone spur growing in his spinal column were pinching his spinal cord upon certain types of contact. Surgery fixed the problem, but Willis needed the rest of the 2007-08 season to recover.
"I got it in my mind right away it’s going to be a long road back, not to rush it," Willis said. "There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m fine. It was obviously very scary from the start. But it’s opened my eyes as far as the desire I have for the game and how hard I’m going to work to get back."
If that effort is rewarded, the Blue Jackets and/or farm team Syracuse could be in for a windfall return on their low-risk investment. Willis has played in 174 NHL games, and, more importantly from a Crunch perspective, tore up the AHL for 20 goals and 23 assists in 43 games for Albany two seasons ago.
"The easiest thing for me to do this year when I got back on the ice is shoot," he said. "I know I can score. It’s what I’ve done since I’ve been a kid. I’m looking forward to doing it again this year."
Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.