ROCHESTER – When Kim Howser spotted her son, Buffalo Sabres newcomer Zach Redmond, stretching on the family’s dining room table that day almost five years ago, she said “pure panic” overwhelmed her.
Just weeks earlier, as some Winnipeg Jets extras skated prior to their Feb. 21, 2013 road game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Redmond nearly died in a harrowing accident on the PNC Arena ice.
As Redmond shadowed teammate Antti Miettinen, he fell backwards into the net. Miettinen also lost his balance, and the forward’s skate blade went under Redmond’s pant leg and sliced through his hockey sock, severing his right femoral artery and vein while also hitting the defenseman’s groin, hamstring and quadriceps muscles.
“The minister called us in because he was that close to not making it,” Howser told the Times Herald by phone Monday. “The entire family was called to North Carolina.”
According to past accounts, the quick actions of teammate Anthony Peluso, assistant coach Perry Pearn and the Jets’ medical staff probably saved Redmond, who lost more than half of his blood, Howser said. The femoral artery provides blood to the tissues of the leg.
Redmond, who was recalled by the Sabres on Saturday, underwent three hours of surgery and stayed in intensive care almost a week. He could’ve lost his leg. He left the hospital with more than 200 stitches holding him together.
So Howser, a retired surgical nurse, wasn’t thrilled to see Redmond on the table with a yoga belt that day at home in Traverse City, Mich.
“I know what we tell our patients,” she said. “When the stitches come out, you can get back to your normal activity, and here he is stitched up like nobody’s business. I was a little shocked.”
So Howser gave her son a blunt message.
“I said, ‘If you pop those stitches, you don’t have to worry, because I’m going to put an end to it,’” she said.
At that point, Redmond’s career – he had played eight NHL games – looked iffy at best.
“In my heart, I wondered if he would ever play again at the NHL level,” Howser said.
Shortly after that, Howser accompanied Redmond to the physical therapist. Watching him rehab so rigorously – “Another level that you can see he’s working to get back to play hockey,” she said – convinced her he would play again.
“When I saw what they were doing with him and how determined he was, I thought, ‘Wow, hot damn, he’s going to do it again,’” she said.
Yes, again. When Redmond was 15, he nearly lost his career after suffering a stroke.
“I’ve had the pleasure of going through a couple horrific events,” Redmond said following a Rochester Americans game Oct. 13 inside Blue Cross Arena. “Those things change your perspective. You don’t want to go through them, but you’re kind of better off for them. At the end of the day, you learn a little bit about yourself.”
“I don’t think (the deal) came as a surprise to anyone, and truthfully, I was elated to get a chance with Buffalo, an organization that treats their players so well,” said Redmond, who was summoned from the Amerks after defenseman Nathan Beaulieu suffered an upper-body injury Friday.
“From the first calls that I got, everyone was super welcoming,” Redmond said. “The players, two days in, I felt like I had been here a full year.”
Redmond’s affable personality likely endears him to his teammates. Possibly because he endured so much uncertainty so young, Redmond is reflective, open to talking about how the harrowing incidents have altered his life and career.
“He’s a really high-energy guy, super positive, great to be around,” Kane said.
Everything, Redmond believes, happens for a reason.
“It seems like every time something happens there’s a dark period,” he said. “But it seems to kind of always make sense a little bit later on in life, just as far as maybe what (the) injury put me in a position to be in a different place at the right time. So that’s kind of been my career. I’m happy with how it’s went.”
By the time Redmond turned 15, his skills exceeded the talent levels in Traverse City, so he moved to Detroit to play for Compuware, a midget team.
During a tournament in Toronto that season, Redmond felt funny. His leg suddenly went numb.
“That was the beginning,” Howser said.
Redmond’s stroke temporarily paralyzed his right side.
“He couldn’t walk or use a pencil,” Howser said.
Redmond spent two and a half weeks in a Toronto hospital. But within a couple months, Howser said, he was back to normal.
“Through occupational therapy and speech therapy and amazing doctors and medical care, he recovered fully,” she said.
Still, early on, the prospects of Redmond resuming his burgeoning hockey career looked grim. A radiologist told his parents he couldn’t play again because he suffered a dissection in his brain, a tear along the inside wall of an artery, according to verywell.com.
“I can still feel the sinking feeling of, ‘How are we going to tell him?’” Howser said.
Howser and Redmond’s father, Dick, refused to believe his career was over. They never told him the stunning news.
Following a second opinion, the family learned a wave – Howser called it “an oddity” – caused the stroke. He could play hockey again.
“It was never a thought he wouldn’t play again in his mind,” she said.
So Redmond essentially picked up his career where he left off, joining the junior United States Hockey League’s Sioux Falls Stampede in 2005-06. The Atlanta Thrashers drafted him in the seventh round, 184th overall, in 2008.
Redmond played four years at Ferris State University, where he earned a marketing degree and captained the Bulldogs as a senior.
“The first time was devastating, because I was 15, 16, so determined, my career was just kind of taking off,” Redmond said. “I had just moved away from home that year, had a good year, was super excited for the future and everything. That hiccup was tough, but I was just blessed. Everything came back and (I) made a full recovery.”
Choosing to go on
Late in the 2012-13 season, Redmond traveled to Winnipeg to collect his belongings.
“We had no idea he wouldn’t be coming back home,” Howser said.
Redmond passed a physical examination, so the Jets offered him a conditioning stint with the St. John’s IceCaps, their AHL affiliate. Just 57 days after a blade severed an artery, he played the first of two rehab games.
Just weeks earlier, Redmond had to decide if he should keep playing. Howser said her son has always put hockey first. There wasn’t a Plan B.
“I had to figure out … what was best for me and my family and if it made sense to go on and how I would recover, because it was a weird leg injury,” Redmond said. “I didn’t know how I’d be on the ice or anything. But again, it kind of worked out to where I was able to get through it, learn from that, grow from that.”
Howser said: “That was life-changing for him. At that time, he just knew that whatever was going to happen would happen.”
Redmond, of course, wasn’t always optimistic.
“Sometimes you just shake your head,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Why is this happening to me?’”
Whenever Redmond’s career picked up steam, he was nearly forced to give it up. But he said it was an “easy choice” to keep plowing forward.
“You can be crippled by what happened and never recover from it, or you can just put it behind you and move forward and do what you can to play the game you love,” he said. “So for me, it wasn’t all that difficult. I wanted to play, I still loved it and I had to make it work.
“It was just kind of what I needed to do. Both times for me, I guess, it was pretty easy for me to get up and get out of bed and get going.”