Top News

JONES: McDavid knee injury documentary bares harrowing journey of non-surgery route


At the end of Don Metz film, Whatever It Takes , he rolled the list like most films usually roll the credits.

It was the audited extent of Connor McDavid’s knee injury from a collision with a goalpost in the last game of the regular season in Calgary. It was the total tabulation of what No. 97 went through to be back to start this season with the Edmonton Oilers for what is looking to be his second Hart Trophy-winning season.

• fully torn posterior cruciate ligament (PCL)

• torn medial and lateral menisci

• fully torn popliteus muscle

• complete tear of the posterior capsule

• tibial plateau fracture

• decided on non-surgical route

• pioneering multi-discipline rehab process

• 179 days/1,000-plus hours to return to the lineup

Those are the facts revealed in the film that, combined with the quote-unquote ‘highlights’ from the people involved, will become a major part of the Connor McDavid legend when the hour-long documentary is aired following the coverage of both the Friday and Saturday NHL All-Star Weekend events on Sportsnet.

The documentary is perhaps the best work yet from Metz.

Your correspondent had the opportunity to preview the film Thursday and the quotes that emerge from the work and the words that go with the above facts give you an idea of what you are about to watch.

Here’s just a sample:

High-performance trainer Gary Roberts set the tone with this: “You know, I fear for Connor throughout his career so far. He’s going too fast.”

Connor McDavid: “It was right on the post square and I just felt the pain right away. I thought I broke my leg into a couple of pieces. I had flashbacks to the (Steven) Stamkos injury. Watching him go through something like that was pretty scary. I mean, this is all in a split second. But a lot goes through your mind.”

Oilers head athletic therapist T.D. Forss: “I asked him on the ice if he could move his knee and he said could move it slightly. I wasn’t concerned that it was dislocated. So I said ‘OK, Connor, we have a couple options here. I’d like to get you up. If you don’t think you can get up, we’ll get the (emergency medical technicians) and get you out that way.’ Connor said ‘No, it’s painful but I think I can get up.’ ”

McDavid: “I was just worried, trying to get up, that my leg was just going to give way. I held it together until we got through the tunnel and then I was a mess. I think it took about 10 minutes just to get back to the dressing room.”

Girlfriend Lauren Kyle: “When he called me, he said ‘I think I broke my leg.’ He was definitely emotional.”

Dad Brian McDavid: “He was very upset. He was in a lot of pain. As a parent, it’s hard to hear when your child is in pain.”

Mom Kelly McDavid: “It was awful.”

McDavid: “I remember laying down in the X-ray room. They took a picture. Then the doctor looked at the picture and said ‘Nope, nothing is broken.’ I’m thinking, ‘I guess that’s a good thing,’ but in hindsight, maybe it would have been better if it had been broken. I got in the MRI machine and they said ‘Grade 2 sprain of my PCL.’ And it looked pretty good.”

Dr. Mark Lindsay, soft tissue specialist: “There was so much swelling that I don’t think they could see the degree of damage, so Connor was referred to a couple of other specialists for a second opinion.”

McDavid: “The doctor in Colorado Springs told me it was actually a full PCL tear on both sides of my meniscus. At that point, it was enough to have full reconstruction of the knee and full reconstruction of the PCL, which would have been over a year recovery and we don’t know how it really would have recovered.”

Brian: ”Basically, Connor told us that the doctor told us he needed surgery and there was no question of that and the sooner the better, and by that he meant in the next few days. Your career is only so long. You never know how long it’s going to be, and the opportunities to win the Stanley Cup are few and far between. And to Connor, it would also be letting his teammates down, too. Distraught would be the best word I could use.”

Kyle: “At first, we were thinking, ‘OK, this is an injury we can come back from.’ Then, all of a sudden, there was the thought, ‘I’m never going to play again.’”

Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson: “He had to make a decision within 48 hours. Can you imagine what was going through Connor’s mind?’

Agent Jeff Jackson: “Connor was very emotional. It was very difficult for him to talk, and I could just imagine that he was devastated with the spot his career was in. It was very much going to be altered or come to an end.”

McDavid: “Jeff said ‘We’ll go get another opinion.’ He set that up, and with the help of Mr. Katz and the Oilers, we went to Los Angeles to meet with another doctor. He said the second doctor was right, but surgery is risky. He said, ‘I don’t believe in surgery. I would try to rehab this.’ So now what do you do? I had to make a decision at age 22 about how the rest of my life would play out, and I had to make it in 24 hours.

Jackson: ”The doctor in Los Angeles said, ‘It’s bad. But I wouldn’t do surgery right now.’ That’s what Connor wanted to hear. He didn’t want to hear that he had to miss a year and that he had to have surgery.

Dr. Lindsay: “I discussed with Jeff. If I’m going to do this, I told him, ‘I’m going to have to actually live with him because it’s an emotional grind to go through.’ That’s what I emphasized to Connor. It’s a fulltime job. It’s seven days a week and 10 hours a day. So it came down to a plan of action. We were going to brace the knee and he was going to be in a hyperbaric chamber for about 40 days.”

McDavid: “When Mark suggested that I was going to be in a hyperbaric chamber every day, I was not very excited about that. You’re in a tube. I remember a doctor had cleared me to flex my quad muscle. I’d be in there for two hours. I’d flex my quad muscle for 10 seconds over and over again just to save the muscle.”

Oilers GM Ken Holland: “Talking to Bob Nicholson in the process to become the general manager, we did talk about Connor’s injury, but it didn’t seem to be all that significant. I don’t want to throw Bob under the bus, but I wasn’t made aware of just how seriously he was injured.”

Nicholson: “When I talked to Ken, he asked that question. It wasn’t the first question he asked, but he certainly asked it fairly quickly through the process. I gave him information, but I certainly didn’t give him all the information.”

Jackson: “There was a point where we went for an MRI where we got to the point where we thought if the PCL fibers aren’t connecting, we might have to do the surgery now. Connor was very nervous that day. Lo and behold, that day you could see the fibers had started to cross and they said ‘It’s starting to heal.’ At that point with Connor, you could see the relief.”

Dr. Lindsay: “Once we got past the first six weeks, the fibers were attaching and then the bone fully healed.”

McDavid: “That’s when the workouts in the pool came in. I spent so many hours in that pool. I still had the brace on. Then I’d have the MRIs again.”

Dr. Lindsay: “They really didn’t want Connor to go back on the ice until September, but one day, I said, ‘I think you should go on the ice with your father. Just get back on the ice and don’t even think about it and just move.’”

McDavid: “It was something I’ll never forget. I didn’t know what it was going to feel like. I didn’t know if it was going to hurt. I had a big brace on so I knew it wasn’t going to give out. But I didn’t know what it was going to feel like.”

Dr. Lindsay: “I really think that was the tipping point in the whole summer. At that point, he wasn’t injured for a moment. He totally changed emotionally from that day. You could just see his face change. He started to smile. He started to laugh. That was a really big moment.”

McDavid: “I got out there and it felt great. I didn’t do any stopping or anything risky, but in my mind, it was ‘I’m getting ready for opening day.'”

Roberts: “There is nobody who has done what Connor has done to rehabilitate himself to come back from that serious of an injury.”

There are many other voices involved in the film, some poignant scenes and some remarkable special effects detailing the injured knee.

From the time McDavid first returned to the ice and began sessions with skating coach Tracy Wilson and began the training in the gym, McDavid was relentless.

When he returned to Edmonton and rejoined his teammates for training camp and the first game of the season, everything intensified. You’ve witnessed the incredible games and unforgettable goals. And now, with the release of Metz film, the story will no doubt take on a life of its own and be the focus of NHL All-Star Weekend in St. Louis.

Should McDavid continue to play at this level for the final 35 games of the season and the Oilers manage to miss the playoffs, it’ll be hard after watching this production to find somebody who will once again refuse to vote for him for the Hart Trophy.

But I suspect the film will have another effect.

McDavid has been difficult for fans to get to feel like they know. But so many of his characteristics were so visible in this film, it’ll be hard to feel like you don’t know him when you watch this. The film does a remarkable job of capturing the Connor McDavid the public seldom sees.

tjones@postmedia.com

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

Did this story inform or enhance your perspective on this subject?
1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

Recent Stories