You don’t need to ask Chase Schaber how he is doing. It’s written across his face and in the stiffness with which he walks.
The player so influential on and off the ice that Fife Flyers built a team around him, is sidelined and staring into a long summer of surgery and then recovery.
He’s also dealing with a concussion as a result of a horrendous hit which sent him flying head first into the boards a week past Sunday.
We’re sitting in an empty Fife Lounge looking down on the spot where he was taken out of play, while the dressing-room below buzzes with noise and activity as players stretch, tape their sticks, prepare for Tuesday’s training session.
That’s where he should be – the room players look upon as their second home ,where they hang tight as a group and goof around in between the serious business preparing for the weekend.
The door to it, and the ice pad, remain open, but the painful reality is he is unlikely to lace up again this season.
Chase’s role from now until the final buzzer will be off-ice; the last place any pro hockey player wants to be come play-off time.
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“It’s not been a fun season for me,” said the player whose sheer personality lit up the rink the moment he bounced across the ice pad at the opening night meet and greet, threw his arm round host Ali McLaren and said hello to the fans.
In his office, Todd Dutiaume drew a parallel line between Flyers’ form and Schaber’s absence – underlining his importance to this team, both on and off the ice.
In the lounge, looking down on an ice pad hosting a handful of ice dancers, the player can only reflect on what has happened, and what he can do from the sidelines.
“I’ll be with the guys, be a good influence, keep them loose and laugh with them,” he said.
“Everyone is getting excited now. For me, I’m not in that position right now to feel that way.”
Play-offs mean everything to hockey players, and Schaber, like everyone in the dressing-room, would give everything to be in the thick of the action, but his immediate future is focussed solely on getting healthy.
Injury in the October game against Nottingham saw him sidelined for a lengthy spell, and it was clear he needed more time to find his stride once more as he returned to action.
“It’s hard to play hockey when you only have one strong leg, and the other is 50-50,” he said. “My game is also based on skating. If I can’t do that 100 per cent I am not as effective, and I have to adapt and find different ways to play.
“I’m a guy who creates opportunities by working hard and outskating the other team. With no strength in one leg, that was tough – there were times I couldn’t get there.
“I knew that, and had to ensure I didn’t put myself in a position where I got hurt, so I had to change – to try to be in the right place at the right time.”
It was no co-incidence that the wins flowed once more as Chase found his tempo, and his partnership with Evan Bloodoff flourished.
Confidence and momentum started to surge along the bench.
Dutiaume points to the wallchart in his office, reeling off each game – a stretch of hockey we have been pleased with.” – which included head to heads with the league’s top four.
“It was fun for that time,” said Chase. “We had to find a way to enjoy ourselves again, and found that in training. That’s why we play hockey.”
That fun stopped abruptly when he was checked into the plexi last weekend. Dutiaume knew it was serious the moment he saw the state his player was in as he left the ice, perhaps underlining his public anger at the lack of supplementary discipline by DOPS – a stance that was met with disbelief and anger by many.
He stands by his views, but with no appeal route, the matter is closed. The damage is done.
For the player, the issue now is one of ensuring his health recovers.
As well as concussion, he faces surgery on his leg which will delay his return home to North America, and impact on his preparation for the next season.
The op doesn’t worry him – the hard work is the rehab once the surgeon has done his work.
“I don’t have definitive answers right now. I’ve done nothing physical since the hit, and don’t know how I’d react. I don’t think I’ll be skating this week.
“As a player you hear about head injuries – they’re tough.
“I’m not feeling the same right now - no way I could get on the ice and play.”
There is for him much to mull over.
As for the play-offs, he wants to see Fife flourish.
“The guys can do it. It’s a matter of getting that consistency and bring it every night. We don’t have much time left together as a team so we got to make the most of it.
“I can’t lace up right now. I love playing – don’t love spectating as much – but the guys in there?
“They can do it. They are doing a great job.”