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Thursday, September 12, 2002
With no back surgery, Straka's season is saved

Associated Press

Martin Straka

CANONSBURG, Pa. -- Pittsburgh Penguins forward Martin Straka finally got some good medical news, learning Thursday that he probably won't need surgery to repair what was initially feared to be a serious back injury.

An operation almost certainly would have ended Straka's season. The NHL's fourth-leading scorer two years ago with 95 points, he was limited to 13 games last season by a broken right leg, a broken orbital bone and a damaged ankle.

"This is great news, real positive news,'' Straka said as the Penguins reported to training camp. "Everybody's positive and optimistic that everything's going to be OK and I won't need the surgery.''

"That's the reason we didn't jump into surgery six weeks ago,'' general manager Craig Patrick said. "We were hoping for some healing and there has been some healing, and Marty is feeling no pain.''

Straka's latest injury occurred during a weightlifting accident in the Czech Republic on July 23, two days before he planned to resume skating for the first time in four months.

As Straka was lifting a 300-pound barbell, the weightlifting machine shifted, causing him to lose his grip and the weight to slam into his back. He was hospitalized for several days, then placed in a back brace that he wore for seven weeks until Wednesday.

When Straka found out Thursday morning that an MRI test showed that the vertebra was healing and the attached ligament appeared to be fine, he immediately resumed conditioning work. He hopes to return to the ice in 2-to-3 weeks.

"I rode the bike for 25 minutes and I couldn't breathe,'' said Straka, who turned 30 last week. "I was tired. But I was so happy with the news, I couldn't wait.''

The Penguins' biggest problem might be keeping Straka from rushing his recovery. He did little physically while in the back brace, so he still needs weeks of conditioning work, weightlifting and skating to get back into game shape.

Straka admittedly rushed his recovery last season from a severely broken right leg sustained Oct. 29. Expected to miss the rest of the regular season, he returned Feb. 27, only to break a sinus bone during his second shift on the ice. He came back again March 7, only to severely injure his right ankle.

"Our problem with Marty is slowing him down,'' Patrick said.

That's why, after learning of Straka's latest medical mishap, teammate Alexei Kovalev called him in the hospital and told him, "You should have stayed in the house all summer, with all the crazy things going on around you.''

If Straka can return healthy and productive early in the season, he would likely play alongside Kovalev on the Penguins' second line.

"The way things have gone for Marty so far, I don't want to predict anything. But things are very positive right now,'' Patrick said. "He looks good and things are healing the way they should be healing. Hopefully, it stays that way.''