Wheeling’s Joe Exter took another giant step forward in his hockey career. Making his first professional start, Exter had 20 saves and registered his first professional win in a 4-3 overtime victory at Cincinnati on February 7.
Signed to a contract with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League on December 24, Exter was assigned to Wheeling on January 9. He made his first professional appearance on January 10 allowing two goals and making four saves while playing 18:44 of the third period in a 5-2 loss at Cincinnati. He made two saves and did not allow a goal while playing the final 8:49 of a 3-0 loss at Johnstown on February 4.
On March 7, 2003, Exter, then playing for Merrimack College, had his helmet knocked loose in an on-ice collision with Boston College freshman Patrick Eaves, whose knee hit Exter in the temple. Exter’s head hit the ice, he was knocked unconscious and he began to convulse. Exter had suffered two skull fractures and he spent 25 minutes lying on the ice while medical staff and paramedics prepared to transfer him to the hospital. Exter spent almost two weeks in a coma at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s intensive care unit. After waking up from the coma, doctors were simply hoping that Exter would be able to walk again and felt that hockey was out of the question.
Exter, who began skating three months later, was not drafted, but had interest from several teams in the National Hockey League before the accident. As his recovery progressed, Exter said that the New York Rangers, the Florida Panthers and the Pittsburgh Penguins expressed interest with all planning to sign him to an AHL contract and then assigning him to an ECHL team. If Exter plays in a combined 15 games between Wheeling and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2003-04, his contract will automatically be renewed for 2004-05 and he is guaranteed a spot at the Penguins training camp.