By Christine Troyke
Gwinnett Daily Post
DULUTH, Ga. – A couple things have kept veteran defenseman Rick Emmett sane as he recovers from the only serious injury of his hockey career.
Both came at the discretion of Gwinnett Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle.
Emmett, who had wrist surgery a week before training camp started, hasn’t been making road trips with the team. Instead he gets to hang with the family, his wife Danielle and their two young boys, Payton and Parker.
“Jeff’s been good about giving me leeway as far as spending family time on weekends and not demanding that I be on the road,” said Emmett, who has yet to play in a game this season.
Payton’s weekly hockey practices and games aren’t the only chance Emmett is getting to do some coaching.
The other thing making his ongoing rehabilitation less painful is standing behind the bench with Pyle during the Gladiators’ home games.
“As long as he’s out, we might as well get him some experience coaching,” Pyle said.
Dapper in his suit and tie, Emmett has been an acting assistant coach of sorts.
Pyle said he hopes Emmett is taking some cues from him during the game about getting the right match-ups and such. Emmett has been playing professionally for 10 years, but coaches have to look at the game from a different, less individual, perspective.
“Being able to still coach during the season, it’s been giving me a [way] of keeping my sanity, being on the ice and being involved in the game,” Emmett said. “Being on the bench sure beats sitting in the stands. I mean, if you’re not on the ice, the closest thing I can get is the bench.
“It could be a lot worse, a lot tougher, but I’ve got a lot going on to try and keep my mind off it.”
Since he was seven years old, Emmett has never been off the ice for this long.
In July — the same month the 30-year-old re-signed for a third straight season playing in Gwinnett — Emmett went in for a Cortisone shot. He’s been getting them every few months over the last year and a half and the shots were doing a good job of alleviating the pain in his right wrist.
This time it didn’t work and Emmett went in for an X-ray.
They found out the condition he had — Kienbock’s disease — is a degenerative disorder of the lunate bone that cuts off the blood supply and was only going to get worse over time.
“That’s why we decided on surgery,” Emmett said. “There was no way I could have started the season and tried to play. Golfing and hockey were no-gos at that point. And it was pretty frustrating.” The surgery was done in late September, a week before the rest of the team reported for training camp.
One bone in his wrist was shortened, to keep it from grinding into the lunate bone. That was four months ago.
“They said three months, I should be able to get back,” Emmett said. “Which was right on pretty much. Because the fusing of the bone, which is the big deal that you really worry about after surgery, took.
“After three months it was good and strong enough to participate, but we actually had another cartilage tear that we repaired there.”
That’s what has kept Emmett from playing in any games.
He’s been practicing with the team for a couple months and progressed to contact drills recently. But the constant pushing and shoving that goes on in the defensive end of the ice remains painful for Emmett.
“If I was a forward, I could play,” Emmett said. “I could have played, I would say, the last couple weeks.
“But I’m not a forward.”
Emmett continues to practice and stand sentinel behind the bench during games. His ETA for return is being judged on a week-to-week basis.
But as long as it takes, at least it’s at the beginning of the season. With the season barely half over, Emmett will be back in time for the stretch run and playoffs.
So Emmett knows it could be worse in so many ways.
“It’s been a learning process,” he said. “It’s been a tough road, being out that long. I’m anxious to get back.”