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The moment it happened Mattias Janmark had a bad feeling that his season was over.
Janmark was on the ice at the Dr. Pepper Stars Center in Frisco on Sept. 28 and was planning on playing in a preseason game for the Dallas Stars that night against the Colorado Avalanche.
That’s when part of his knee fell out.
He couldn’t walk without crutches, and his leg was stuck in close to a 75-degree angle below the left knee.
“I kind of had the feeling I was done,” Janmark said. “I hoped I was wrong. But I went in and with the condition, I had a good idea of what had just happened.”
The condition is Osteochondritis dissecans. Osteochondritis dissecans is a joint disorder where bone underneath the cartilage of a joint dies due to lack of blood flow. Bone and cartilage can crack and break loose, resulting in pain and interference with joint motion.
Janmark had surgery on Sept. 30 to re-attach the bone and his season effectively was finished. In an even scarier proposition, Stars general manager Jim Nill listed his potential recovery at 80 percent — leaving a 20 percent chance he’d never play in the NHL again.
“That’s something you don’t want to think about, but that’s a reality,” Janmark said. “It’s progressing well know, and I guess I’m lucky it happened when it did.”
This isn’t the first time Janmark has dealt with the genetic disorder. When he was 12 or 13 it developed in his right knee, but he was still growing and out grew the condition.
“It hurt, but it was just like a growing pain,” Janmark said. “You obviously hope that’s the last of it.”
A couple years later it hit the left knee, and he couldn’t outgrow the condition this time. It was something the Stars new about when they traded for him (in a deal for Erik Cole to to the Detroit Red Wings), but Janmark had learned to manage the plan and it wasn’t impacting his performance on the ice.
During his rookie season Janmark had 29 points (15 goals, 14 assists) in 73 games and was one of the biggest surprises on a team that had the best record in the Western Conference. Throughout his on-ice success, Janmark was secretly managing the pain in his knee.
“I could have trouble walking. It was really stiff. It was bad in the mornings, trouble walking stairs and stuff with the knee a little bit bent,” Janmark said. “But on the ice, it’s been pretty good because it is a pretty smooth movement. On bad weeks, it would be stiff the first 10-15 minutes, and then it would get better and better. And then by the night, after you’ve been up walking and skating in the morning skate, it would be gone.
“But it’s nothing you can’t handle. I’ve just had to adjust the off-ice workouts for a lot of years to try to prevent this from happening. But when you are an athlete you have to work hard, and eventually something can happen.”
While it was a frustrating loss for the Stars this season, it ended up being fortuitous timing for Janmark.
“I am glad it happened when it happened,” Janmark said. “It got me through the men’s league in Sweden and then got me over here. It could have happened earlier, and I wouldn’t have had the resources they have here, so I am grateful for that.”
The Stars certainly would have supported Janmark if he were still a prospect dealing with Osteochondritis dissecans back in Sweden, but he wouldn’t have had the full array of resources. In fact, Janmark acknowledges that if the bone had fallen out while he was still playing in Sweden or before he made an NHL roster, he likely never would have been an NHL player.
“Who knows what would have happened,” Janmark said.
Janmark said there were some depressing and frustrating times this season, but has focussed on what he can control. He’s started skating and practicing with the team again, but won’t play this season and risk further injury.
He’s still focussed on entering training camp next season at 100 percent, and is now six months into what was originally scheduled as a five-to-six month recovery.
“I for sure expect to be ready by camp. I’ll probably have some hints during the summer, but for sure that’s my goal,” Janmark said. “If I am not ready by then, then I am going to have to start looking at options. That’s a long time, that’s almost 12 months (since the surgery). But I for sure expect to be ready by then. Absolutely.”
Both Janmark and the Stars hope that pans out.
When healthy Janmark is a quick two-way forward that can play either wing or center. During his rookie season he helped hide many of Jason Spezza’s defensive issues, while his injury this season was one of the catalysts for a poor start that snowballed into a failed season.
Throughout the season dozens of scouts have commented on Janmark’s absence in the Stars lineup, including one Western Conference scout that said, “he was maybe the biggest loss in the NHL and most fans around the league probably don’t know his name.”
“He’s a guy we could play in the middle when we had struggles through the middle of the ice. He was a guy you could play on the wing that could help out a centerman that was struggling,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “But it started with the speed of his game. You look at his first couple of goals last season, he’d beat somebody up ice, or he’d beat somebody going to the net. He was an important part of the speed game.”
Janmark wants to be that same player next season, and he said he’s hopeful his career will get a re-boot after a lost season.
“I hope I can come back just as good,” Janmark said. “We’ll see what happens, but it’s been good signs so far.”