The Road to Redemption
Every spring Canadians become captivated by hockey and the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Players will sacrifice it all to help their teams inch closer to a Cup win. Consider Gregory Campbell who played through a broken leg in 2013 with the Boston Bruins. However, some players have their playoff dreams ripped away from them be it due to injury or even off-ice issues. Zack Kassian became an overnight sensation, after scoring two crucial game-winning goals for the Edmonton Oilers in the first round. On the other side of Canada, Clarke MacArthur launched Ottawa into a frenzy when he scored the overtime-winner in Game 6 of the Senators’ first round series to send the Sens to round two. Both players endured a lot of pain, stress, and doubt; but, they are finally breaking through.
On October 4, 2015, Zack Kassian found himself in troubled waters. The Windsor native had not played a single game for the Montreal Canadiens, when he was involved in a car accident that day, suffering a broken nose and fractured left foot. Kassian was found to be under the influence of alcohol, at the time of the accident, though he was not the driver. However, this revelation saw him placed into the NHL’s substance abuse program. The once highly-touted prospect had hit rock-bottom. Traded three times and considered a bust, Kassian needed help and was forced to get it. After finishing his stint in the NHL’s substance abuse program Kassian was told not to report to the St. John Ice Caps (the Canadiens’ affiliate) and was traded to the Edmonton Oilers.
As if it was not hard enough for Kassian to join the fourth team of his NHL career at the age of 24, Kassian was joining a team that hated his guts. During a pre-season game in 2013 Kassian blatantly high-sticked then-Oiler Sam Gagner in the face, resulting in Gagner losing four teeth and needing a plate and six screws to repair his mouth. To make his own matters worse, when Gagner returned in a game against Vancouver later that season, Kassian decided to taunt him for having to wear a face-shield as result of the injury. Kassian became public enemy number one in Edmonton. Yet, Oilers General Manager Peter Chiarelli saw untapped potential and a low-risk opportunity in Kassian, and gave him a final chance to prove himself. It was not an easy road for Kassian; but, this was the best offer he was going to receive, and he wanted to make the best of the opportunity.
After a short stint with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, Kassian got the call from Edmonton to return to the NHL, and made his debut with the Oilers on January 14, 2016. Just under a week later, he scored his first NHL goal in over 10 months. Since then, Kassian has found a consistent role in the Oilers’ lineup. The 26-year old played a career-high 79 games this season and recorded 24 points, while providing valuable minutes on the team’s penalty kill. Though, nothing can be as sweet as Kassian’s playoff production, which has truly been a coming out party for him on a national stage. The gritty Kassian cashed in on a breakaway opportunity in Game 2 shorthanded and sent Edmonton into pandemonium. The Oilers would go onto win the game, and even up the series, however, Kassian’s heroics were not done there. In Game 3, a David Schlemko was gifted to Kassian who deposited the game’s only goal into the Sharks net, winning the game for Edmonton in doing so. This lea TSN’s Ryan Rishaug and Darren Dreger to question whether Kassian is on his way to becoming a playoff-star, when commenting on his breakout performance. Whether he is on his way to becoming a playoff star or not, one thing is for sure, Kassian is in a much better place than he was a year and a half ago, and is a better man for it.
On the other side of Canada, a different story has been unfolding over the past two years. On February 16, 2015, in a game between the Ottawa Senators and Carolina Hurricanes, Clarke MacArthur found his team falling victim to an odd-man rush. Seeing this, MacArthur sped up to pick up his man going to the net. In doing so, though, MacArthur fell and goaltender Robin Lehner gave him an inadvertent blocker to the head. This was MacArthur’s first concussion, and, not thinking much of it, he made a goal to return to the Senators lineup later that season. MacArthur was a part of the Senators’ “Hamburglar” run, even stringing together a seven-game point streak to end the regular season. However, MacArthur’s return may have cost him. The Senators had high aspirations for MacArthur coming into the 2015-16 season, but only four games in, he suffered another concussion. General Manager Bryan Murray announced a week later that MacArthur would not be returning in the near future.
In late March of 2016, MacArthur finally passed baseline tests to return. But, with the team far from playoff contention, the Senators shut him down for the season. With that in mind, fans were excited to see MacArthur skating with the Senators in September, and were ambitious and anxious to see the top-six forward back on the ice. On September 25, disaster struck. In a team scrimmage newly-acquired Senator Patrick Sieloff gave MacArthur a hard body check along the boards, and MacArthur instantly collapsed. Furious with the situation teammates Bobby Ryan and Chris Neil began to fight Sieloff. MacArthur was aided off the ice by teammates, and a happy day turned somber in the blink of an eye.
With another setback MacArthur was told to take his time, and to consult concussion doctors about his future. Amazingly enough, by late October, MacArthur was back around the rink. Senators’ Head Coach Guy Boucher informed the media that MacArthur would be travelling with the team, as he thought it would be good for him to be around his teammates. In early December, fans received promising news when MacArthur indicated he intended to join the Senators sometime in January. This news came as a surprise to many, as MacArthur had now suffered three concussions in less than two years. Training every day, and practising with his teammates in a non-contact jersey, MacArthur would stay on the ice after his teammates left, working as hard as he could to get back. On January 20, 2017, the final nail in the coffin appeared to have been put in. Senators General Manager Pierre Dorion announced that doctors had advised the team to shut MacArthur down for the year, and that they intended to do so. Dorion also refused to comment on MacArthur’s future. It seemed to be the end to an incredible comeback, and MacArthur was crushed. Yet, he refused to give up.
In late-March, the unexpected happened. MacArthur announced that he was not shut down and still intended to play. Boucher and Dorion, not in complete agreement with the comments, gave rather cautious responses to this. Then, on April 4th, Dorion shocked the hockey world by announcing that MacArthur would be in the lineup that evening for the Senators game against the Detroit Red Wings. The hockey community instantly became embroiled in a heated discussion, on whether MacArthur should be playing or not. However, when he hit the ice for his first professional game in nearly two years the building roared in excitement for #16. At the end of the night, the Senators and MacArthur had won, proving he could still play. He was noticeably emotional during his post-game interview, but set his eyes towards the playoffs, focused and determined to be ready if he got the call. And, he got the call. As described by Boucher, “all of Ottawa raised its arms when MacArthur scored in Game 2”. Then all of Ottawa celebrated again when MacArthur scored the series-winning goal in Game 6 to defeat the Boston Bruins.
Two very different journeys by two men in different points of their careers. One unproven and undesired, and one injured and distraught. However, they both persevered and overcame their battles. Canada tunes into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and cheer for these men, commending them for their acts of courage and strength. Both Kassian and MacArthur serve as reminders to never ever give up on your dreams. No matter who is against you, you can always achieve those dreams if you work hard enough to get there. Congratulations Zack and Clarke, your dreams have come true, and it is wonderful to have you guys back on the ice.
Note to my readers: Sorry I could not provide you with the tidbits this week! As I was in exam period and have been quite busy! I hope you enjoyed this week’s piece, though, and hope you stick along for the ride in the summer! Enjoy the playoffs! And all should return to normal this coming week, my Facebook and Twitter will give updates if that changes! Thank you for your support as always!
Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.