Comeback continues for Bruins blueliner

If you were in the building that night, it is really hard to believe that he is almost back.If you were at Prospera Centre Nov. 19, and you watched Jesse Pauls get hit behind the Chilliwack net and then try to crawl back to the bench, the (still slim) possibility he might return in March is unbelievable.The play continued for almost a minute at the other end of the ice as Pauls tried desperately to get off. Everyone could see his leg dragging along and everyone wanted the whistle to blow so Bruins trainer Matt Auerbach could get out there and help.When Pauls finally got off the ice, he was rushed to the hospital. “I went into shock, and before I knew it I had an IV in my arm and I was getting morphine and all that fun stuff,” Pauls said. “I knew my leg was broken. I heard it. I felt it and it looked funny. That was the first injury I’d ever had that kept me from playing.”It is often said that elite athletes carry an aura of invincibility, a belief that bad things will not happen to them.“I never saw myself getting seriously injured, and when it happened I had a good cry thinking about how I wouldn’t be able to play hockey,” Pauls admitted. “It was kind of scary looking at the rehab and knowing how much work was ahead of me. It’s definitely overwhelming thinking about how far you’ve got to go and how long it will take to get there.”Pauls started off in a wheel-chair, eventually graduating to crutches and then a walking stick.For a long time, he was limited to swimming laps in the Cheam Centre pool. Under the watchful eye of Bruins assistant coach Pat Conacher, he was eventually able to dive into dryland training.“He is the most in-shape 51-year-old I’ve ever seen in my life,” Pauls chuckled. “I’m 18 years old and I can’t keep up with the guy.”Eighty one days after the injury, on Feb. 8, the Chilliwack native was finally allowed to lace up the skates and get back on the ice. “It’s almost like stepping back onto the ice for your first time, and I couldn’t wait to do it,” Pauls said. “I can’t cross-over and do other stuff that used to come subconsciously. I’ve got to re-train my leg and body, which is frustrating. But it also reminded me how much fun skating is.”The hockey implications were an afterthought for the Bruins, who were far more concerned about his health than the unexpected hole on the blueline.But the loss of Pauls did affect Chilliwack’s on-ice performance.In just 21 games, he had established himself as a reliable point producer on the blueline, potting one goal with 13 assists. He was a crucial component on Chilliwack’s top-ranked power play, working the left point beside 20-year-old captain Brandon Manning.But more importantly, he’d rounded out his game to the point where head coach Marc Habscheid was no longer nervous playing him five-on-five.When Habscheid sent Paul off to the junior B Abbotsford Ice Pilots after 13 games last year, there was reason to question whether he would ever be back. And it wasn’t just about on-ice performance. There were questions about Pauls’ maturity level and willingness to buy into the team-first philosophy.The young blueliner has laid those questions to rest this year, to the point where Chilliwack’s bench boss went out of his way to volunteer a glowing quote on the new and improved Pauls.“When he got hurt, he was probably playing the best he’s ever played for us,” Habscheid offered. “I give him tons of credit because he’s really engaged, working as hard as one could expect with a great attitude. I tip my hat to him because he’s trying his best come back from a really tough injury.”Hearing those words gives Pauls an extra push in his quest to complete the comeback.“Marc and I have never been on the same page until pretty much the exact point where I got hurt,”  Pauls admitted. “But he’s here every day seeing how hard I’m working behind the scenes and it definitely means something when your coach recognizes how hard you’re working.”And if all that work results in a return this season?“That would be a dream come true, to be honest, because every doctor I’ve talked to has told me no,” Pauls said. “There is nothing I would like more, even if I’m just back practicing with the guys, it would be huge.”

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