Whether you thought Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara should have been suspended or not, he delivered a violent hit that could have ended the hockey career of New Canaan native Max Pacioretty.
The 22-year-old Montreal Canadiens forward suffered a concussion and fractured vetebra when he was checked head-first into the glass by Chara with just 16 seconds left in a game at the Bell Centre on March 8. Chara was not suspended and some overzealous folks in Montreal called for assault charges to be filed.
What made it even tougher is the fact that Pacioretty had been playing well, registering three goals and an assist in the three games before the injury.
But after four months of rehab, Pacioretty is ready to resume his career. Playing in the Big Assist III exhibition on Wednesday night at the Terry Conners Rink represented a milestone in his recovery. While it obviously wasn't the same as an NHL contest, it marked the first time he had played in an actual game since the incident.
"It definitely will be the higest intensity I've played in since the injury," Pacioretty said. "I've been skating a lot with the guys in the area but this definitely will be a good test for me.
"I had to do a lot of rehab and a lot of strengthening in my neck but I think the past two months or so, I've been ready to play so I'm looking forward to (getting back) now."
Darien native Ryan Shannon, who hosted the Big Assist III, has been impressed with Pacioretty's work ethic during the rehabilitation process.
"I see him training at Body Tuning in Darien and he's an animal," Shannon said. "When you see him out here today, you'll see the incredible comeback that he has been able to accomplish. He's going to have a fantastic year.
"It's a great story the way his season was taken away from him. He didn't worry about it and worked really hard to come back. Tonight, you'll probably see the beginning of the evolution of Max."
The real test will come during training camp when Pacioretty gets on the ice during training camp in September and plays in the real games. Of course, the Canadiens thought enough of Pacioretty to recently sign him to a two-year contract extension.
"I hope the first game of the season, I'm ready to go and there's no hesitation out there," said Pacioretty, who has overcome a number of injuries, including a broken collar bone in high school, though nothing this serious.
Following the frightening injury in March, Pacioretty received an outpouring of support from his friends and immediate family, but he also garnered support from his second family -- the rabid fans in a hockey-mad community who pulled together for one of their own.
"A lot of good has actually come out of this injury," said Pacioretty, who has 20 goals and 29 assists in 123 games over three seasons with the Canadiens. "I'm not saying I would want something like that to happen again, but I have gotten great support from family, friends, the city of Montreal and also people back home in Connecticut.
"It opened up my eyes to realize there are people out there who really care and how many great people there are out there. I hope I can make them proud by showing them what I have next year."
Pacioretty doesn't remember Chara's actual hit because he was concussed, but in the immediate aftermatch, he felt many emotions, including anger, but over time that anger has dissipated.
"When I did watch the hit, it made things a lot worse," he said. "Now that I've had time to think about everything, I'm hoping something like this can make me a better person and I'm doing everything I can to treat it that way."
Despite the hit, Pacioretty holds no ill will toward Chara, who reached out in a text message. Pacioretty called him back and the two players had a talk.
"I think he felt sorry for what he did," Pacioretty said. "You can definitely forgive someone who admits they made a mistake rather than just say it was my fault or something like that. It was good to talk to him."
Pacioretty, who recorded a career-high 14 goals and 10 assists in 37 games last season, not only wants to get back on the ice in the fall but expects to improve as a player.
"This is just a bump in the road,"he said. "I don't see it playing any role in my development. (The Canadiens) know the injury is not a threat to my career and they know I'm going to come back better than ever. I'm glad they have faith in me. They signed me for two years and I'm looking forward to getting it started."