Wednesday was a dandy day for Jason Jaffray, in part because he secured gainful employment for the coming hockey season and also because he got some good medical news.
After all, what’s the point of having a good job if you don’t have good health to go with it?
Jaffray, the St. John’s IceCaps’ captain in 2011-12, will be back with that club this fall after agreeing to an American Hockey League (AHL) contract. The deal was announced by the parent Jets Wednesday out of Winnipeg, where Jaffray happened to be meeting with that team’s doctors.
“Not too bad for one day. I signed a contract and also was cleared by the surgeon for light contact,” said Jaffray, who is four months removed from spinal fusion surgery.
The 31-year-old forward went under the knife in April, a few weeks after he took what was almost literally a bone-crushing hit from Norfolk Admirals’ defenceman Radko Gudas during an AHL game in Virginia. Jaffray ended up with a herniated disc in his neck and although he could have done without spinal fusion surgery, was told not doing so might also mean the end of his hockey career. So he underwent an operation which saw the damaged disc replaced by a piece of bone harvested from his hip, with a screwed-on metal plate to cover the area of repair.
The actual fusion of spinal fusion doesn’t occur during the operation. It happens over time as the replacement disc integrates itself to its new home. And so far, things have progressed well for Jaffray.
“I have had a couple of minor setbacks. Nothing serious, just little reminders that I had neck surgery too long ago,” said Jaffray, who hopes to be ready for training camp, which starts Oct. 1 for the IceCaps in Corner Brook.
“I was told there is a six-month recovery time, which if you went by the exact date from my surgery, would mean Oct. 18. But I saw the new (AHL) schedule and that (the IceCaps’) first game is Oct. 13, so I’d like to be ready then.”
Jaffray resumed skating almost two weeks ago. Although he tweeted at the time that his legs and lungs suffered as a result, he has, for the most part, been able to follow an off-season workout/cardio program — albeit a slightly different one in light of his operation. And it’s augmented by the considerable activity that comes with being the father of a five-year-old girl and two-year-old boy.
He was also working out a new contract with the Jets, who were reluctant to commit to much until his recovery had progressed further. For his part, Jaffray was concerned about what a potential lockout of NHL players could mean, especially for veteran players like him. It’s one of the reasons the unrestricted free agent, who had a two-way deal last season (he played 13 games with Winnipeg and 47 with St. John’s) was able to accept an AHL-only deal with the IceCaps.
“Nobody really knows how things will play out for veterans on two-way deals, with waivers and how they will apply to the situation,” said the off-season resident of Olds, Alta.
“There are a lot of pros I’m skating with back home who don’t have jobs.
“The way things are now, it seems teams aren’t throwing out many NHL contracts, except at the bigger names.
“I know I didn’t want to be stuck without somewhere to play and without a paycheque.”
Another factor — perhaps the biggest one — was his family situation. Jaffray’s wife, Michelle, and the two children remained at home in Alberta last winter while he played in St. John’s — “It was the one thing I didn’t like about last season,” he said — but they will be moving be Newfoundland in a couple of weeks.
Jaffray had prepared for this some time ago. Last spring, he made inquiries about potential employment in the St. John’s for Michelle, who enjoys a career as a gymnastics instructor, and he had registered his daughter for kindergarten here.
“So while it was pretty clear I wanted to come back to St. John’s, I didn’t want to come back if it meant I couldn’t be with my family,” he said. “So I’m glad things have worked out. Michelle has a job with a club in Mount Pearl and my daughter will be starting school there next month.
“Being able to have my wife and children with me was the most important thing in all of this. Last year was the first year I had been away from them, and I didn’t want to go through that again.
“Nobody wants to watch their children grow up on a computer screen.”