Winnipeg Jets' forward Blake Wheeler knows he dodged a bullet recently and he's lucky to be back playing hockey.
He got a scare last Saturday when New Jersey forward Petr Sykora fired a slap shot from the point that hit Wheeler in the neck. Wheeler immediately left the ice for the hospital, clutching his throat.
“I was nervous at first,” Wheeler recalled Thursday after practising with the Jets at the MTS Centre. “I couldn’t really tell where it hit me. I couldn’t tell if I could breath.”
Wheeler spent a day at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre undergoing tests. Doctors said he was incredibly lucky. The puck barely missed his jugular and his Adam’s Apple.
“The only good spot it could hit, it hit. So, I was pretty lucky,” he said. “I think I was able to react just quick enough to kind of turn my head a little bit and it just missed the jugular.”
Wheeler said he wasn’t wearing a neck guard and doubts one would have helped anyway.
“We’ve looked at the things. There's not much out there. If you are going to get hit with a slap shot, it’s going to do some damage no matter what. I don’t really know what else you can really do except for duck the next time.”
He added that it was the first time he’d ever been hit in the neck while playing hockey.
When asked what it felt like at the time, Wheeler smiled and said: “It felt like I got a slap shot in the throat.”
Then he added, “I don’t know, it was more the shock that was scary. It wasn’t so much the pain just making sure I could breathe.”
Wheeler will be in Winnipeg’s lineup Thursday when the Jets play the struggling Buffalo Sabres at the MTS Centre. The Sabres arrived in town after losing to Chicago 6-2 on Wednesday, their tenth straight loss on the road.
The Jets haven’t been doing much better lately, going 2-6 in January.
Winnipeg coach Claude Noel said having Wheeler back is helpful. “He has a lot of speed, creates a lot of offence,” Noel said Thursday. “He’s been doing a lot of stuff for us which when you don’t [have]you really can see what you don’t have...He’s a welcome addition back for us.”
Noel added that the Jets need to take advantage of Buffalo’s troubles. “As much as we respect their team, and like their team, we’re trying to win games, just as they are and they would do the same to us.”
He added: “We have a chance to win, they played last night. So, is the advantage ours? Not sure. We’ll see how it opens up.”