Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Kris Letang will return to the line up tonight, just ten short weeks after he suffered a stroke. The 26-year-old was cleared to play for the first time since January 27, when he had the stroke after feeling dizzy and nauseous. While the cause of the stroke was never pinpointed, doctors did find a small hole in Letang’s heart, and he was placed on blood thinners. He has been practicing with the team since March 17, and his condition has been closely monitored by team physicians. He has also been trying to convince GM Ray Shero to let him back into game action, but the GM had to err on the sign of caution, but now feels that Letang is ready, telling reporters:
“To return to play hockey, he’s at no further risk to suffer a stroke than he would be going to the grocery store.”
From the moment he fell ill, Letang has wanted nothing but to get back on the team. His first thoughts, he explained, centered not on his family, not on his health, but on playing again:
“My first reaction was ‘When am I going to skate again? When am I going to play again? It has always been in the back of my mind that I want to come back.”
This dedication, this determination, has been demonstrated again and again this season in hockey. Rich Peverley, who suffered what was called a cardiac event during a Dallas Stars-Columbus Blue Jackets game, immediately asked his coach when his next shift was. As it turned out, Peverley would require surgery, and would not play again in this season. In a strange twist, the game between the Stars and Jackets would be continued on this night, the same night that Kris Letang is making his return to the Pittsburgh Penguins line up.
Letang’s return, less than three months after a stroke, to a team that has locked up the Metropolitan Division and the second seed in the Eastern Conference, is either courageous beyond belief or foolhardy to the same extent. Letang is a young man, with a family and a long career ahead of him. While his dedication to the sport he loves is admirable, the question has to be: is three months enough? Is any sport worth your life? When these questions were posed to Letang, when he was asked if he was worried, his response to reporters was this:
“I’m nervous because I haven’t played in a while. But [scared] about my situation, not at all.”
Proof once again that hockey players are just a different breed of athlete. The Pittsburgh Penguins are playing the Detroit Red Wings, who are fighting for their playoff lives tonight. Midway through the third period, the Penguins were leading the game, 3-2. Letang assisted on the goal that gave his Penguins the lead.