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After winning his fourth championship in five years, Komets goaltender Nick Boucher should be having the best summer of his life. Instead, he's wondering if it could be the first summer of his post-hockey life.
Boucher, 31, is dealing with a medical condition called cam impingement in both hips where bony growths rub against cartilage holding the ball in the hip socket. He used cortisone shots to deal with the pain last season.
Eventually, he's going to need surgery to shave the bone and make sure if fits properly again, but he's wondering when. It could be soon, meaning he'd miss at least the first two months of the season. He'd like to consider putting it off until the end of next season but isn't sure that is feasible.
"It never bothered me much in the summertime, but it's bothering me more and more this summer," Boucher said. "I'm not 100 percent resolved on having it done. The timing right now is terrible."
The surgery would require him to be on crutches for a month. Because it takes time for the raw bone to heal even though the pain relief is almost immediate, the best-case scenario would have Boucher skating in two months and wearing pads again in three months. Then he'd need to regain his conditioning and timing.
The Komets believe Boucher should have the surgery now and are looking for new goaltenders. It's even been suggested that Boucher should sit out next season and work as a goalie coach when he's ready. As he considers how much longer he wants to play, Boucher is not sure he could sit out an entire season.
"If I do that, maybe that's just too hard to do it," he said.
Cam impingement problems for goaltenders have become as common as elbow and shoulder problems for baseball pitchers. There have been suggestions that cam impingement injuries are more frequent because of the butterfly style, which has become the norm over the last two decades. Rapid City goaltender Tim Boron recently had the surgery, Boucher said, as did Arizona goaltender Scott Reid.
"It manifests itself through joint pain, back pain and pain all around the hip," Boucher said. "For me, it's groin and back and a little bit of hip flexor. It hurts your mobility, so your other muscles try to compensate and become overworked and sore.
"I'd have a sore back and we'd treat the back and then my groin hurts so we were constantly chasing it. When you get the shots in the hip, everything is relieved, and that's what happened. That was the biggest indicator of this injury. I got the shot and it was like magic."
The problem came back when the effects of the shot wore off in mid-June. The blessing is that the shots worked as well as they did, but the negative is that it's too late to schedule surgery so it won't affect the upcoming season.
"The worst thing is I'll go a few days and feel pretty good, and then all of a sudden it hurts," Boucher said. "I'll decide I better get this done, and then it feels better for two weeks. It's the coming and going that is really frustrating. Right now I feel good and a week ago I was hobbling around."
He's felt good enough this week to golf four days in a row. He knows eventually he'll have to have the surgery as a quality-of-life issue, but he wonders if he can play another year with a few more shots.
"I have a little bit of tightness, but I'm kind of used to living with that," he said. "It would be great in the offseason if I didn't have the aches and pains, but it's a quality-of-life thing and it has to be addressed. If it hurts to golf and go in the gym and lift weights then that's a problem. It's not going away."