NHL Report Eye to eye with Carl Soder­berg

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Mike Cham­bers, The Den­ver Post

mon­treal» n hind­sight, choos­ing to un­dergo eye surgery Nov. 15 and still travel with the Avalanche on this four-game trip was some­what in­ju­di­cious. My work hasn’t suf­fered, but my com­fort level in do­ing what I love changed. With one good eye, it was dif­fi­cult to nav­i­gate through fa­mil­iar air­ports, ho­tels and are­nas — and par­tic­u­larly hard to hail my Uber driver while si­mul­ta­ne­ously look­ing at my cell­phone for his or her li­cence plate.

Last week I was see­ing 20/150 out of the new donor-is­sued cornea, which is held in place by 16 stitches. As I told Avs cen­ter Carl Soder­berg in Nashville, I just feel “off.” He un­der­stood.

My right eye will heal and the vi­sion could dras­ti­cally improve. If not, I’ll even­tu­ally be able to wear a con­tact lens to prob­a­bly see 20/20. But Soder­berg will never see any­thing sharp and re­fined out of his left eye. A lifted stick and de­tached retina when he was a 21year-old hockey player in Swe­den changed his life for­ever. But it didn’t end his hockey ca­reer.

I’m on the dis­abled list in­def­i­nitely with my beer-league group. There’s no way I could play hockey right now. So how does Soder­berg play cen­ter in the NHL?

“It’s def­i­nitely in­ter­est­ing how some­one can play with one eye,” Avs cen­ter John Mitchell said. “Over time, you can evolve, I sup­pose, and get that one eye very strong and be able to see a lot more. But it cer­tainly ben­e­fits to have two, for sure. Credit Carl for be­ing able to do that.”

Credit Soder­berg for re­learn­ing how to play hockey and be­com­ing the player he was pro­jected with com­plete vi­sion.

Soder­berg, 31, was a 2004 sec­on­dround draft pick by the St. Louis Blues, but he didn’t play in the NHL un­til 2013 at age 28 with the Bos­ton Bru­ins. Last sea­son, his first with Colorado, he amassed a ca­reer-high 51 points and was named the Colorado chap­ter nom­i­nee of the Pro­fes­sional Hockey Writ­ers As­so­ci­a­tion’s Bill Master­ton Tro­phy, which goes to the NHL player who stands for per­se­ver­ance, sports­man­ship and ded­i­ca­tion to hockey.

Soder­berg wasn’t so ded­i­cated to hockey in 2006 af­ter an op­pos­ing player in the Swedish Elite League tried to lift his stick but in­stead dug the toe of his stick into Soder­berg’s left eye. And, yes, he was wear­ing a vi­sor; the stick be­came lodged be­tween his face and the vi­sor.

“At first you don’t think about hockey. You just want to get healthy,” Soder­berg told me in Nashville. “I was pretty beat up for three, four months. Lot of surg­eries and I was at the hos­pi­tal for three months. The first thing you want to do is get rid of the pain and get healthy. But sud­denly I ac­cepted the in­jury — that’s the first part, ac­cept­ing the loss of vi­sion — and as soon as I ac­cepted it I started to think, ‘Maybe I can come back.’ ”

Soder­berg didn’t play hockey for a year. How bad is the vi­sion in his left eye now? “If I had no vi­sion in my other eye I could walk, I guess, if there’s lights,” he said. “It’s blurry. I couldn’t see any­thing with­out lights.”

A cen­ter­man has more re­spon­si­bil­ity than a winger but Soder­berg feels more con­fi­dent in the mid­dle. Wingers have to take passes off the wall, and some­times op­pos­ing de­fense­men will skate down from the blue line and crush the winger.

“When I played wing it was very hard for me,” he said. “When I played left wing and posted up (on a break­out) I never see the D com­ing. It feels more com­fort­able to be in the mid­dle of the ice.”

Soder­berg will re­main in the mid­dle, where his team­mates and coaches know he be­longs.

“He’s ob­vi­ously a very in­tel­li­gent player, be­cause it would take an in­tel­li­gent player to do what he’s do­ing with one eye,” Avs coach Jared Bed­nar said. Mike Cham­bers: mcham­bers @den­ver­post.com or @mikecham­bers

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