The emergency medical technician was amazed at how calm Islanders defenseman Mike Mottau was during the 11-mile ambulance ride from Philips Arena to Atlanta's St. Joseph's Hospital. But while the then-32-year-old father of four's blood pressure remained remarkably level, his mind was racing. Unable to see out of his right eye after taking a puck to the face, Mottau immediately thought about his family, his future.
Would he be able to play catch with his kids ever again? Resume his 10-year hockey career? Regain the vision he temporarily lost when Zach Bogosian's shot took a beeline to his eyeball and left him thrashing in pain on the ice?
"It was scary," Mottau recalled of that night on Nov. 21, when he went down in the first period of a 2-1 overtime loss to the Thrashers. "The stuff that pops into your head when you get hit like that, you immediately prioritize."
Following his temporary loss of vision 41/2 months ago, Mottau has gained a fresh perspective. His season was derailed by the eye injury, then ended when a nagging hip issue stalled his return one month later, but regardless he feels grateful.
"It was very difficult mentally and physically," he said. "I've always had my health. This made me appreciate it a little more."
Mottau said he is "extremely lucky" to have his vision, although it is not 100 percent and may never be.
Mottau now has a constantly dilated pupil, which makes him extremely sensitive to light. Sunny days with snow on the ground are the worst, he said. He'll have to play with a visor, possibly a tinted one, for the rest of his career.
"Your eye is like a snow globe," Mottau said, using an analogy his eye doctor told him. "At first, it was like it was all shaken up. Looking through it was like a snowstorm, a blizzard. Then just flurries. Now it's pretty clear."
Mottau said he can empathize with other players who have suffered serious eye injuries and the fear they face. Vancouver's 30-year-old center Manny Malhotra, Mottau's former roommate and teammate with the Rangers, recently underwent surgery after being struck in the eye with a puck late last month.
"I will definitely reach out to him," Mottau said. "I can definitely understand what he's going through."
After his eye injury, followed by hip surgery, eight weeks on crutches and intensive physical therapy, Mottau skated for the first time in months Monday.
According to a team spokesman, "The expectation is that he will be ready for camp."
With all that he has endured, Mottau can't wait for next season.
"That's the exciting part of what I went through," Mottau said. "I was able to watch as a fan from afar, the development of the younger guys, the confidence that grew with success. That was great to see."