EDMONTON - Ryan Jones won't be in attendance Sunday as the Oilers open Training Camp at Rexall Place, nor will he be in the lineup as the club begins its 33rd National Hockey League season next weekend.
"The timing couldn't be worse," said the 28-year-old.
Ten days ago, and less than a week before the NHL and NHLPA agreed to end their bitter, 113-day-long work stoppage, Jones was struck in the eye by an errant puck during a conditioning skate in Minnesota.
"The day the lockout ended was a bittersweet day," said Jones, who's still rehabilitating at his off-season home in the State of Hockey. "Obviously I was happy to have hockey back and I was happy for all my friends and for the people I care about to have their jobs back. But at the same time, it was the first day that I really realized I was going to be missing some action. It hit me pretty hard."
No pun intended.
Jones, a proud Chatham, ON product, described the injury as the "flukiest thing" he's ever seen. During a mini game at the University of Minnesota, the Oilers winger was standing off to the side when a deflected puck, packing a punch, bounced off his eyebrow.
"The puck basically took a 90-degree turn. I saw it redirect out of the corner of my eye at the very last second," Jones said. "It wasn't coming at 90 miles an hour or anything, so I had enough time to react and duck down a little bit, but it caught me on the side of my eye. Down I went. When I got back up, there was so much blood that I had to go to the hospital. There was enough damage to the structure that the doctors wanted to go in and do a quick fix so that I'd never have to deal with it in the future.
"The unfortunate thing is that the eyes are so important, so I'm really on the shelf right now. I can't do too much because everything affects your eyes."
Jones isn't sure of the medical terminology or what kind of timeline he's under before he can return to action -- although you can expect him to be out until mid-to-late February, at least. But after waiting nine months since his and the team's last game (Apr. 7, 2012 vs. Vancouver), he's itching to play. Jones will meet with his surgeon on Monday in Minnesota, get an update on his condition and then meet with the Oilers doctors on Tuesday in Edmonton.
"I was bleeding and it swelled up right away," he said. "I haven't been off the (eye) drops since. It's a matter of getting the swelling and everything to go down. Once it does, I'll be able to go about my regular activities.
"Unfortunately for me, while everybody else is getting in game shape, I'm on bed rest. It's going to take me a little bit to get back into game shape. But I'll do it quick and as soon as I can get on the bike or whatever, I'll be living on it."
Jones has sporadically worn a visor throughout his six-year NHL career, but this near career-ending, potentially life-changing incident has completely altered his opinion about whether or not one is needed.
"I guarantee I won't step on the ice again without a visor," he said, noting that doctors indicated they're 'not worried or at all concerned' about any vision loss. "I'm going to take every precaution and do everything in my power to protect my eyes. In seeing the injury, seeing how the puck hit me and how fast it was going, it didn't take much to do the damage that it did.
"If that puck was traveling any faster and I didn't have the time to react to it, we wouldn't be having this conversation right now for reasons I don't even want to think about. There's a bit of a stigma that goes along with guys in my role that wear a visor, but I'm not going to care one bit. My only worry right now is to protect myself moving forward and that's what I'm going to do."
Jones collected career-highs in most offensive categories last season, posting 17 goals and 33 points in 79 games. He was in Edmonton until Dec. 1 but, after not seeing any progress toward a resolution in the League's labour strife, Jones and his wife, Jamie, made the decision to go back to Minnesota for the duration for the work stoppage.
"In hindsight, I guess it wasn't the greatest idea," laughed Jones. "But I needed a bit of a change of scenery with what was going on. The lockout was taking an emotional toll on both of us."
Prior to the lockout being enacted back on Sept. 15, Jones didn't seem overly thrilled with the idea of playing in Europe. If there was any interest at all, he wanted Oilers teammates Jeff Petry and Devan Dubnyk to come along.
The trio didn't have much luck securing temporary employment.
"In talking with the guys when we were skating at the Kinsmen (Twin Arenas) back in August and September, we weren't interested in going over for a week or two and coming back because we wouldn't enjoy it," Jones said. "One of the things to make it easier on Jamie and I, and for those guys, too, would be to get a couple guys in the same city.
"That's something you don't get to experience too often. But it's tough to get a team to bite on one, let alone two or three rental players. We didn't have too many teams that were really that interested and we weren't surprised."
Jones got an offer to play in Russia early in the lockout, but "didn't seriously consider it." Instead, practice at the University of Minnesota was the next best thing.
"There was a good group of about 30 guys skating down at the University," Jones said. "The skates were really intense but there wasn't much physicality going on -- guys were battling in corners and stuff and we were staying as prepared as we possibly could, but there was still that small little factor that plays into being game ready. The only way you can do that is by playing games. I didn't think by any means that I'd be behind the ball [if we were to start the season earlier]. I thought I was perfectly prepared to step into the season and start where I left off last year.
"I still will be whenever I'm cleared to play."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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