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Fending for Himself
Team's injury policy serves only to hurt Connolly... again

BUFFALO (LGS) — Tim Connolly has absorbed some serious shots over the years.

He suffered a concussion in the 2003-04 preseason and didn't skate again in the NHL until after the lockout. That first season back, Darius Kasparaitis went low on him along the boards and took out his knee. In the playoffs, the Senators' Peter Schaefer delivered perhaps the most damaging blow. And 11 days ago, the Blues' Keith Tkachuk added injury to injury.

So he knows the feeling of being vulnerable, exposed, hung out to dry.

But could even Connolly have foreseen that some of the fiercest shots of all would be enabled by his own organization? That he would have to go directly to the media to, in effect, clear his name?

On Tuesday, many fans went into reflexive sarcasm mode when the Sabres termed Connolly's most recent injury to be of the "upper body/musculoskeletal" variety and said he would be out "week to week" without providing details. Predictably, the message boards were rife with mentions of mastitis and other crude references to Connolly's, uh, lower body.

Onto a blank canvas of information, many drew their own conclusions, writing one more chapter into the Connolly narrative.

The organization did reveal on Monday that the center was getting a second opinion, but in the days after that, knowing he was, metaphorically speaking, being pounded again, it was silent. What they wouldn't say was that the new set of x-rays had, according to the center's comments to the Buffalo News on Sunday, revealed a clean break in a rib. Connolly disclosed the information to News sportswriters on Saturday night at HSBC Arena.

Besides raising more questions about a medical staff that has had its share of controversies in recent years, the story puts the team's injury disclosure policy in the spotlight.

The policy might be well-intentioned, but it makes no sense in this situation. Lindy Ruff didn't want to announce the specific nature of the injury out of fears that when he returned, Connolly would be targeted. But he's already a target, a wounded gazelle on a Serengeti Plain full of ruthless predators.

The hockey assassins don't need directions or even an excuse to put someone in their sights — Tkachuk knew exactly what he was doing when he saw Connolly with his head down and more than went out of his way to take advantage.

Besides, Ruff had already revealed after the St. Louis game that Connolly had a bruised chest. And there's the problem. A player is expected to play through pain, a mere bruise. And Connolly did two nights later against Columbus. But when he was out for the Pittsburgh game the next night and the prognosis eventually became an almost sarcastic "week to week," the story again became Connolly's sack.

When the team elected not to reveal the broken rib, Connolly didn't even get the benefit of having played through such a significant injury.

No wonder he felt the need to put one of his patented dekes on the front office and get the story out himself. Who else was going to defend him? Ruff, Darcy Regier and captain Craig Rivet weren't exactly about to skate into the fray, were they?

Sure, in the final year of a three-year deal and about to become an unrestricted free agent, Connolly would probably want the story out there for reasons of self-promotion. But part of the decision had to be the sheer desire to have the truth on record, for once.

And the truth is that Connolly has displayed plenty of courage and tenacity throughout his star-crossed professional career.

After that concussion in '03, he played in Switzerland during the lockout and arrived in Buffalo for training camp in September '05 not even on Ruff's radar as someone who could help the team. Connolly earned a spot, recorded nearly a point a game in the regular season and was spectacular early in the playoffs. And he made it back to the league in 2007 after a second devastating head injury.

When he played two days after the rib injury, leading the team in ice time and, according to his comments in the News, playing through the worst pain of his career, Connolly went a long way toward rewriting that narrative.

But instead of a Masterton Trophy mention, all he got was another punch in the gut.

Sadly, this time he must have seen it coming.


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By Mark Zampogna, LGS Featured Columnist
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