DENVER - Colorado Avalanche defenceman Kyle Quincey punctuated his winning overtime goal by thrusting his arms into the air.
A spontaneous reaction after leading his team back from a three-goal deficit against the New York Islanders on Thursday.
Just over a year ago, that simplest of celebrations wouldn't have been possible. Quincey took a hit that dislocated his left shoulder so severely, it stretched a nerve running just under his armpit to the point where he lost sensation and range of motion.
Doctors were fearful Quincey might never regain feeling again.
For weeks, his shoulder basically dangled at his side as the nerve attempted to heal. For weeks, Quincey hoped for the best yet braced for the worst—his career just might be over.
"It was a little bleak there for a week or so," the 26-year-old Quincey said. "The doctor said the retirement word a couple of times and that was scary."
Now mended, Quincey is relishing every shift, every second for that matter, he spends on the ice.
"That put everything in perspective," Quincey said. "Last year just showed that everything can turn on a blink of an eye—one shift, one mental thought where you don't focus and you put yourself in a bad position and everything goes backward. Everything turns around."
Quincey is having quite a turnaround season, leading all Avalanche defencemen in scoring with three goals and eight assists. His overtime winner against the Islanders was the first of his career.
In typical fashion, Quincey deflected the credit by saying the spotlight should shine on David Jones, who screened Islanders goalie Al Montoya just enough for Quincey's shot from the blue line to sneak into the net.
"If (Montoya) sees that shot, he probably saves it," said Quincey, whose team rallied for only their second win at the Pepsi Center this season. "Jonesy did all the work there. Huge win for the boys. It was looking pretty bleak."
Even at its bleakest Thursday—down three goals late in the second period—everything eventually turned out just fine.
Just like with his arm.
Quincey was hurt last December in Washington when he took a wallop that sent him awkwardly to the ice with enough force to pop his shoulder out of place. Then he slid into the boards, causing even more damage. He was scheduled to have surgery, but had to wait a month to see how much feeling he regained.
At first, his arm barely responded when he tried to lift it.
Two weeks after the injury, the nerve began to twitch back to life and he was able to hoist one pound. And then another pound and another.
"All the rehab I was doing was just to get me to the point where I could have surgery," Quincey said. "I wasn't out of the woods yet."
After the procedure to fix his shoulder, he was back for even more rehab—at least two hours each day with the trainers.
Six months after the injury, Quincey got to the point where the nerve was firing at about 60 per cent. It was enough of a recovery to give him peace of mind, and to know he was likely going to play again.
Now, he's feeling better than ever. So much so that he considers his left shoulder his good one.
"It's awesome to see him back," forward Ryan O'Reilly said. "He's a huge reason why we're doing what we're doing."
Quincey helps anchor a bigger, beefier Avalanche defence this season.
At six-foot-two, 207 pounds, he's actually one of the smaller players, especially with Erik Johnson (6-4, 232), Ryan O'Byrne (6-5, 234), Jan Hejda (6-4, 237) and Shane O'Brien (6-3, 230) around.
"I like being considered a small guy on this squad," Quincey chuckled. "We have a lot of big boys who take a lot of pride in front of our net. I think that's a huge change.
"When you're a bigger guy, you can contain (forwards) in the corner a little easier."
Quincey began his career with Detroit where he picked up helpful hints and tips from players such as Nicklas Lidstrom, who's regarded as one of the best defencemen in the business. Quincey played a season for Los Angeles before arriving in the Mile High City in a July 2009 trade that sent Ryan Smyth to the Kings.
After missing the final 55 games last season—and wondering if he would ever return—Quincey has a renewed vigour for the game.
"I realize how fortunate we are to play this game," Quincey said. "When you have a scare like that, where the doctor says you might not be able to use your arm again, you come back a little hungrier.
"I'm just happy to come to the rink every day."