NEW YORK -- Defenseman Viacheslav Fetisov stepped back on the ice at the South Mountain Arena in West Orange, N.J., Thursday for the first time since playing against Minnesota on Nov. 24 with a severe case of bronchial pneumonia.
And it has been a difficult separation for 32-year-old Soviet and the Devils.
The pneumonia developed from a flu condition on a trip to the West Coast. He went to a doctor in Los Angeles, who apparently didn't realize the seriousness of the illness. Fetisov was given some pills in Minnesota.
When he returned to New Jersey, he was hospitalized for four days, then released on the condition that he rest. But there was no rest.
Instead, he learned his father was very ill back in the Soviet Union and needed medication that was not available in that country. Fetisov went out to find the medicine, then sent it to the Soviet Union through the embassy. By the time he got back to New Jersey, it was past 2 a.m.
Fetisov is reluctant to discuss his father or the illness, saying only that he is "stable now."
But his father's problems were also his problem. When the doctor found out about Fetisov's mission of mercy to New York, the player was immediately put back in the hospital for three days for his own protection.
Early this week he began an exercise program, and Thursday he began skating. He and forward Dave Maley, who is recovering from a sprained ankle, worked intensively for 25 minutes. They pushed the puck and skated to improve both short bursts and stamina.
"He sprinted and raised his heart level," said the Devils' conditioning coach, Dimitri Lopuchin. "But he has had no activity. Even if he hadn't been so sick, he would have to rebuild himself."
"If I had to play, if it were the playoffs, I would," Fetisov said.