The injury looked “pretty grotesque,” said teammate Mike Knuble, who was on the receiving end of some “pretty graphic” pictures Wideman sent from his hospital bed via text message.
Given the uncommon nature of the injury, it was impossible for Shaffer to estimate what rehabilitation would require or whether Wideman would come close to getting the same level of strength out of his leg.
“I didn’t really think about it being career threatening, that never crept into my mind,” Wideman said. “It would have been different if there was muscle damage; it could have been much worse.”
Although he was on the ice 10 days after being released from the hospital, Wideman wasn’t close to a return when Washington’s season ended in a second-round sweep to Tampa Bay. The first two months of his recovery were extraordinarily painful as he worked to get mobility back in his leg, Wideman said, but he was able to participate fully once training camp began in September.
“I was shocked when I first saw what he went through, the amount of trauma his leg endured, it’s remarkable that he’s managed to come back and make it look like nothing happened. That’s incredible,” said assistant coach Jim Johnson, who joined the team in late November and was initially unaware of the severity of Wideman’s injury. “We overplay him at times but we’re trying to make sure he gets the proper recovery time between games, that we keep his practice time short.”
Wideman said the main change has been that his right leg tires more easily, but he relishes the strain of the heavy workload that has made him an indispensable part of Washington’s blue line this year.
So far he’s passed tests of durability, having played more than 25 minutes in 10 of the past 12 contests, and is humming along at an offensive pace (nine goals, 25 assists) that would lead to a 58-point season. Whether Wideman reaches or exceeds that plateau may be immaterial, though, given where he sat last March.
“I think he was extremely lucky,” Shaffer said. “I knew he was very committed to his own fitness, that he was very driven and that we got to it fast enough that the muscle was in great shape. But for him to wind up having essentially normal function, nearly full strength return to the leg is remarkable. Given where it began, it’s certainly a happy ending.”