Raymond travels tough road back to NHL

After months of recuperation and rehabilitation, Mason Raymond was pumped to return to the ice last Thursday.

Then he found out just before game time that, because some documentation wasn’t sent to the NHL in time, he would be forced to wait to return to the Vancouver lineup. But what are 72 more hours when your career could have ended six months earlier?

“I felt good overall,” he said after a 5-1 win over Calgary on Sunday.

Coach Alain Vigneault liked what he saw.

“He had some good minutes, he had some real good shifts, he showed a lot of poise and was real confident with the puck,” Vigneault said. “So I really liked his overall game tonight. I’m really pleased with how all that worked out.”

Before Sunday, Raymond hadn’t played since suffering a vertebrae compression when he was sent backward into the boards on a hit by Boston’s Johnny Boychuk early in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals. After spending most of the summer in a back brace, he knows he’ll never be fully healed and that daily maintenance will be required.

“It’s a serious injury that’s going to take some time,” Raymond said before his return. "Things have changed back there. It will never be the same. I’m not going to get into specifics, but I had some serious damage back there. I’ve got issues back there.

"I’ve got to deal with them all the time. That’s part of life. Is it going to be perfect? Probably not, but I’m at a stage where it’s very good and I continue to work and do things that are going to make me feel I’m in a good spot."

The 26-year-old began to practice with his teammates about three weeks ago.

Last week, Vigneault said he wasn’t concerned about the physical part of Raymond’s game; rather he was concerned about the mental aspect.

“Practicing and playing are two different elements," Vigneault said. "I don’t want to say his teammates have been taking it easy on him, but it won’t be the same level of awareness from the Nashville players that our players might have had during practice. He’s got to get out there and play and find his groove quicker than sometimes it happens.”

Raymond, who had 15 goals and 39 points in 70 games last season, played on the third line Sunday. In 14:35 of ice time over 21 shifts he registered one shot, two missed attempts and a faceoff win. He also assisted on Jannick Hansen’s third-period goal.

“I thought we had some good jump,” Raymond said. “We can be a good north-south line and create things off turnovers and our forecheck. Jannik’s got a hot stick right now, so it was nice to get an assist.”

He didn’t enter Sunday’s return game with any lofty expectations.

“There’s only a few things that you can control and that’s your hard work and your preparation. I’m going to out, play hard,” he said. “If I focus on working hard and doing those little things, everything else will come.”

With a better understanding of the injury and how lucky he is to be playing hockey again, let alone walking, Raymond knows he’s fortunate to be back.

“I’ve come a long ways," he said. "You go from lying in bed for a week, barely moving, to being in a brace for a few months. It’s been a long process. I’m blessed to be able to be back here, playing the game I love. You don’t really realize, I think, what you use every day — the use of your hands, your legs, until something like that happens maybe.”

Northwest Division notes:

Calgary D Mark Giordano, a key component of its defense, is out indefinitely after rupturing tendons in his leg last Tuesday. He’ll likely undergo an MRI in three weeks to re-evaluate the severity of the injury. … D Cory Sarich, a healthy scratch in 10 of the past 13 games, has denied a report from last week that he is demanding a trade. … Flames backup G Henrik Karlsson sprained the MCL in his right knee Sunday. G Leland Irving was recalled from AHL Abbotsford. Irving was the team’s first-round pick in 2006. … The Flames sit fourth in the NHL in road power play success (23.8 percent), but are a league-worst 4.4 percent (2 for 45) at home. … Before Tuesday’s loss in Vancouver, the Avalanche had won three in a row and four of five. … Colorado has killed 20 of 22 penalties over the last six games. … Colorado C/LW Ryan O’Reilly was named the NHL’s second star of the week. O’Reilly had four goals and seven points in four games last week. … C Paul Stastny suffered a torso injury Sunday, but it isn’t believed to be serious and he’s listed as day to day. … Avs D Erik Johnson played 15:06 in his return Sunday. He missed five games with a groin injury. … Colorado G Semyon Varlamov has won four of his last six starts after going 0-6-1 in his previous seven decisions. … Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was named the league’s rookie of the month in back-to-back months to start the season. Evgeni Malkin is the only other player to do that in the last 20 years. … RW Ryan Jones had his first career hat trick in a 6-3 win over Columbus Friday. He’s never scored twice in a game. … C Eric Belanger doesn’t have a goal, yet continues to play the point on the Oilers’ second power-play unit. … After Tuesday’s 2-1 win in San Jose, Minnesota has won five in a row and 15 of 19 to sit atop the league standings with 39 points. … Minnesota beat Anaheim 5-3 Sunday and San Jose 2-1 Tuesday to begin a five-game road trip. … The Wild have 12 wins this season after giving up the game’s first goal. … Wild RW Cal Clutterbuck leads the NHL with four short-handed goals. … G Roberto Luongo made 21 saves Sunday as he started his first game since Nov. 13. He missed two games with an upper-body injury, then watched as Cory Schneider won five straight before Luongo entered in relief Thursday. … Vancouver has lost LW Aaron Volpatti for four to six months with a torn labrum in his shoulder. Volpatti had a goal and 37 penalty minutes in 23 games. … Vancouver’s Green Men made their season debut at last Friday’s game against the Predators.