SUNRISE, Fla. — Ed Jovanovski’s remarkable comeback has not gone unnoticed.
The Florida chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association nominated Jovanovski for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded to the NHL player who most exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
"Any time you are nominated for something, it’s a great honor," Jovanovski said. "For me it has been a tough road, no question. When I came back and was going through my rehab, there was that doubt for me, the chances of never playing again. So to have the passion to come back and get in there and do my work [for] 35 games … it is definitely a treat to be here."
Plagued by hip pain which kept him from completing simple acts such as bending down or tying his shoes, Jovanovski opted to have his hip resurfaced after numerous therapeutic options failed. The procedure is one step away from a total hip replacement.
"It was a daily struggle a one point to do a lot of things," he said.
After months of painful rehabilitation and hesitation by doctors to clear him for play, the Panthers captain returned to the ice on January 4.
It is believed Jovanovski is the first professional athlete to have returned from a hip resurfacing.
"There was no data on this, no history of it being done before," he said. "When you look at the whole procedure, it’s pretty wild what I have in my body, to be doing what I’m doing."
Since returning, he has appeared in 32 of the Panthers 36 contests, sitting out the second half of back-to-back contests to rest. Jovanovski has registered a goal, four assists and a minus-5 rating. He has averaged a little more than 16 minutes per game.
"When I got back from my surgery, seeing what I went through the first week after surgery, it wasn’t fun," Jovanovski said. "It was miserable. As the days move on, your attitude, [it’s a] the sun comes up kind of attitude. Everything is moving forward. With the rehab regimen nowadays, you’re kind of right back at it and you start feeling better."
For the first time since undergoing the procedure, Jovanovski admitted his parents questioned why he would go through such a grueling undertaking at 37. For the defenseman, the answer was simple: he loves the game.
"It killed me," Jovanovski said when asked about being away from the Panthers teammates. "And it’s one of those things I worry about when I am done. The dressing room is a great spot, having the opportunity to come in and shoot the breeze with the guys, hearing the young guys’ stories, going on the road and having the opportunity to be as a team. Ultimately, at the end of the day, do what you love to do."
Panthers coach Peter Horachek pointed out that it is tough enough for a player Jovanovski’s age to endure the typical grind of an NHL season. But to do so after having undergone major surgery is a testament to Jovanovski’s perserverence.
"Playing later in your career like that is tough, the day-to-day and the travel and the recovery the next day from games, playing back-to-back games is tough," Horachek said. "Going through that, working hard enough and have the doctors clear you, and to feel that it is healed, you’ve give him credit and a lot of points for that."
Simply getting through this season is not only Jovanovski’s goal. He intends to return next season, his 19th in the NHL.
"I think for me it is going to be a really important summer, focus on an 82-game schedule and work on playing and having success," Jovanovski said. "I have a year on my contract. I plan to fullfull it."