What has been a patience-testing wait for Jason Jaffray is being extended a bit longer.
The St. John’s IceCaps captain, who hasn’t played a game of hockey since late March, was counting on returning to action Friday, when the IceCaps make their 2012-13 American Hockey League home-ice debut against the Adirondack Phantoms. But despite an intense lobbying effort from Jaffray, the team has decided to delay his comeback until next week.
St. John’s head coach Keith McCambridge acknowledges the veteran forward has fully recovered from spinal fusion surgery and has been cleared to play, but that the coaches, trainers and doctors have decided it would be prudent to put back his return until next Wednesday, when the IceCaps play the fourth game of a six-game home stand.
“He is good to go. He is ready to play, but we’re going to hold off until the 24th versus Portland,” said McCambridge.
“This isn’t based on anything more than doing what’s best for the Jaffray family, not what’s best for the Winnipeg Jets or the IceCaps. It’s not a political thing with numbers or veterans. We know what Jason Jaffray brings. He wants to play. And you know him. You know what he’s like. He we was definitely lobbying for Friday.
“We just want to make sure that when he steps onto the ice he won’t be taking a step backwards”
Jaffray’s neck surgery, involving two vertebrae, came in mid-April, a few weeks after a big check by Norfolk Admirals defenceman Radko Gudas ended his season.
“Everything is good. I have no symptoms. If I did — like pain or tingling in my fingers — I wouldn’t be cleared to play. But I don’t and I feel ready to go, although I understand the better-safe-than-sorry (attitude of the team),” said Jaffray.
“But I’m still lobbying hard (to play Friday). I’m still giving coach a hard time about it. And I thought maybe if the NHL started up in the next couple of days they might need me for the weekend,” he added with a slight smile.
“The thing is that it’s (home-)opening night and I’ve had this date circled on the calendar for a long time. It’s been what I’ve been battling towards.
“I can understand waiting a little longer. It doesn’t mean I like it.”
“However, if the doctors decide I need another week of practice, it’s tough to argue with them. I’d be kicking myself if I came back a week early and was out for two months or something like that.”
Jaffray joined teammate Jason King for on-ice workouts in St. John’s throughout September and he took part in the team’s training camp in Corner Brook earlier this month, but could only watch as the IceCaps played three exhibition games and opened their 2012-13 regular-season schedule in Springfield, Mass., and Hartford, Conn., last weekend.
“I’ve been more involved in the drills over the last couple of days and I kind of realized that maybe a week more of practice might not be a bad thing,” he said. “I kind of felt I was a step behind a little bit maybe because I’ve been skating kind of summer hockey style for the last couple of weeks.”
Jaffray, like any hockey player, looks forward to the start of any season, but his especially anxious to find out how his surgically-repaired neck will hold up. He’s sure it will, but is looking forward to the confirmation that only in-game action can bring.
“It’s tough getting a real feel of how it will really be out there, because in practice, nobody wants to be the guy to hit a guy who’s had neck surgery,” he said.
“I’ve been harping on defencemen that in the one-on-one and two-on-two drills that I want them to hit me hard, to cross-check me, to finish their checks against me.”
Dean Aresene, a friend since they were teammates in junior, and a rearguard known to be as punishing in practice as he is in games, has promised to do it. So have youngsters Ben Chiarot and Julian Melichiori, but Jaffray, the willing target, doesn’t believe they’re delivering all they can.
“As much as they say they will, I know they’re not. Nobody seems to want to be the guy who takes out the captain when he’s still on IR.”
That’s why Jaffray was so pleased to get drilled by a rookie rearguard during a workout Tuesday.
“Will O’Neill got me good and I got up and get going. As weird as it sounds, it felt good to really get smacked hard into the boards and then to get up and realize that nothing hurt,” said Jaffray.
“After I got up, Will kept yelling “Sorry!” at me. And I kept telling him that’s what I wanted.
“I actually thanked him.”