It’s crazy to think that just 14 months ago, we became the interim co-managing editors of Hockey Wilderness. After the transition, we adjusted our job titles and responsibilities so that Ryan was managing editor and Logan was deputy editor and social media manager. For both of us, it was our first time watching Minnesota Wild games outside of when they played the Vegas Golden Knights (Ryan’s old beat) and the Dallas Stars (Logan’s beat). The learning curve was a bit surreal as we dove into the roster and the salary cap, while turning out articles discussing the recent firing of Paul Fenton and getting to know our staff. The 2019-20 season was a year of personal ups and downs for both of us, but one thing remained constant — our love for hockey and our love of writing, talking, and tweeting about it.
One of the best — and oftentimes, most heartbreaking — aspects of the National Hockey League is that both the sport itself and the league are never static. The landscape of ice hockey is always evolving and shifting in new directions and always with an eye to the future. Hockey in the year 2020 was no exception, with play paused and eventually resumed in the midst of a pandemic, a pivotal year in American politics, and nationwide protests over police brutality. Through it all, hockey returned, the Wild with it, and the league provided fans with a much-needed balm from the bubble in Edmonton. It’s unclear when hockey will return for the coming season, but it will return, better and brighter than before. That’s the beauty of evolution in sports and in life — what comes after is so much bigger and more breathtaking than could have been envisioned beforehand.
Like the evolving and shifting in sports, our personal lives have been subject to some pretty wild changes in the past few months. Though it saddens both of us, we are announcing our retirement (if you want to keep with the sports jargon) from covering the Wild, and our stepping back from the leadership of Hockey Wilderness.
Ryan: I’ve been trying to avoid writing this over the last week because, frankly, I don’t want to be writing this. I hate that I’m typing this sequence of words on my keyboard by choice. But here we are. As Minnesota’s own Bob Dylan said, the times, they are a-changin’.
For those of you who do not know, I have been working at NBC Sports as a part-time contractor (digital editing) for the last couple months. Beginning this week, that part-time job will turn into a full-time job.
After leaving Nevada and moving back home to the east coast, I was struggling to find full-time work in the sports media industry. It sucked. Like, a lot. Eventually, though, some really awesome friends introduced me to some really awesome people, and now I finally have the thing I spent all those years in school and all those late nights writing until 3 a.m. for — full-time work in sports.
I still can’t believe it, and I cannot be happier. For the first time in nearly a decade I have just one job. I’m going to have time to do things again! I’ve forgotten what that even feels like.
As I reflect on this past year, it’s clear that there are so many people who deserve recognition. First and foremost Steph Driver, SB Nation’s NHL brands manager, gave me this opportunity last year, and I could not have done it without her guidance, trust and friendship. The bond she has formed with everyone in SB Nation’s NHL community is unlike anything I’ve seen before, and I’m not sure she’s aware of how many lives she’s changing, both professionally and personally. I cannot even begin to express my gratitude.
The Hockey Wilderness staff. When Logan and I came in, none of them had any clue who we were. I was just some guy living in the desert covering a hockey team that no one would have ever imagined existing a decade ago and Logan was a Stars writer. But the veterans of Hockey Wilderness — Kyle, Happy, Eric and Zeke — all accepted us right away. We leaned on them so heavily, and not once did they ever let us down. They were instrumental in us getting to better understand the Wild, their history and the fan base, and neither of us could have done this job at a high level without their help. We needed them more than I can verbally express.
Of course, the newcomers have been fantastic as well. Kurt, Isha, Brandon and Madison have all been valuable additions to the team, and it’s the “new guys” who we count on to keep this site going strong. With them in the fold, I have little doubt we will continue to keep this thing growing.
Also, if you’re reading this and you’re a Whitecaps fan, you kind of have to be a bit of a Riveters fan now as well. You can’t not support Madison. That’s the law.
And then, of course, there’s you all — the Hockey Wilderness community. I wasn’t sure what I was in store for when I accepted the position to begin covering a team I rarely watched. But it became immediately clear that this community — the Hockey Wilderness community — is without a doubt the best bunch of people I’ve ever had the pleasure of engaging with in an online setting. Despite me having never set foot in Minnesota once in my entire life (aside from the MSP Airport for about 25 minutes), you all were warm, welcoming, supportive and loyal from start to finish. There’s nothing I love more than publishing an article and reading the comment section to see what kind of insightful dialogue is taking place between you all. Wild fans are by far some of the most intelligent in hockey, and being able to write for you all on a daily basis was as rewarding for me as anything I’ve done in my professional career. At the end of the day, you all were what made me want to get this site back on its feet again. All I can hope for is that I didn’t let you all down.
So, you may be wondering what happens now that Logan and I are leaving. Well, October 4 will be my last day covering the Wild. However, you should expect to learn more about who will be taking over as managing editor and deputy editor within the next week or so. He or she will do an excellent job in their roles, and I am confident that you all will treat them with the same hospitality that I received when I arrived. Plus, I will be keeping my eye on things to make sure all is continuing to run smoothly. This site is my baby, and I don’t ever want it die. Hockey Wilderness forever!
On that note, though I am leaving Hockey Wilderness, you may still see some of my writing on SB Nation from time to time. I will continue to contribute for Broad Street Hockey in my free time, though I’m not sure how much longer that will last either. Regardless, when the day comes that I have to leave SB Nation completely, you can still keep up with my bad hockey opinions on Twitter (@TheRyanQuigley). I have a lot of them, so feel free to engage with me whenever you see fit.
And now comes the part of saying goodbye where I don’t know how to do it without sounding extremely awkward and weird. So I’m just going to end this here. Don’t be a stranger, friends. Stay connected and continue to be great. You guys rock.
(devil horns emoji)
(also, at the time of me finishing this writing it’s literally 4:36 a.m. so I’m literally gonna pass out if I write anymore)
Logan: Ryan and I were hired to take the helm of Hockey Wilderness on the first day of August in 2019, ahead of what everyone hoped would be an exciting hockey season. I had high hopes for the coming season, both personally and professionally.
What I could never have foreseen was my left knee giving out toward the end of August 2019, precipitating an arthroscope surgery in early November. An MRI had revealed that my kneecap was toast, essentially. Both the cartilage attached to the back of the kneecap, and the bone of the kneecap itself, were damaged worse the doctor had ever seen. I was referred to the top surgeon in the region that specialized in kneecap surgeries. (In the wildest twist of fate, he’s a former team doctor for the Providence Bruins in the AHL. Of course it would be a former hockey team doctor that would rebuild my knee.) Unfortunately, three months after the surgery, the subsequent MRI revealed that it hadn’t worked. I needed a full reconstruction of my left knee. Thankfully, the pandemic-induced ban on non-essential surgeries was lifted in May for my state and my surgeon scheduled me for June 11th, nearly 13 years to the day from when I was assaulted (and how my knee was initially injured). If that surgery worked, I would be free, finally.
When I came to in the recovery room, I asked the nurse if it was over, if they’d gotten everything. And when she replied that they did, that the surgeon was pleased with how it went, I burst into tears. She held me as I sobbed, “It’s over. I’m free.”
And then the work started. Grueling physical therapy appointments to rebuild muscle mass (I lost close 50% of the muscle in my left leg within the first five days). Other appointments to help manage the pain. Check-ins with the surgeon and imaging at the eight and 12-week marks. Between three to five appointments per week. A full-leg brace locked at the knee for eight weeks. Crutches for eight weeks. The last three and a half months have felt like a slow, shuffling eternity in Hades.
There’s a certain amount of guilt that I feel, knowing that Hockey Wilderness has not gotten my absolute best work from me since that first surgery in November last year, and especially since June this year. My body is exhausted. My mind is exhausted. My emotions are shattered.
But out of shattered remnants come the most beautiful things. The Japanese method of kintsugi (the literal translation is “gold joinery”) repairs shattered pottery with a mixture of lacquer and gold. It’s stronger where it’s been broken, and the break is replaced with something beautiful that speaks to the strength of healing and moving forward. The seven-inch scar on my knee is dark and still unsettling to look at (at least for me it is), but it signifies something that’s been repaired, and my surviving — and overcoming — something that no one should have to experience.
Biding my time in recovery for three months, putting my energy into healing, both physically and mentally, was coupled with the nerves about what the CT scan at the three-month mark would reveal. If the reconstruction didn’t work, then it was on to a knee replacement — at the age of 29. When I met with the surgeon to go over the scans, he apologized for the first surgery. “When we got in and flipped your kneecap over in June, I realized why the first surgery didn’t work, could never work.” The area of my kneecap that had been damaged was three times larger than what had been evident in the scans. There was no way the work done via arthroscope could have addressed all of that.
The surgeon removed 25% of my kneecap and replaced it (and the cartilage behind it) with a graft. In addition to that, he also realigned my kneecap. That involved severing the portion of my shin where the patella tendon attaches and then using titanium screws to reattach it in a different place. This changes the angle and location of the kneecap — and results in the worst shin splints you can imagine for the first few weeks post-op. In my case, it meant that the portion of my kneecap that had been replaced with a graft would no longer grind on the bone behind it and that my kneecap was finally in the right position for the first time in over a decade. Both parts of the surgery are complicated, but my surgeon has a success rate that is eye-popping. (You can check out the wild X-rays of said realignment here.)
I don’t need to tell you the draining whoosh of relief that crashed through me when he looked at the CT scan two weeks ago and then smiled. Though it was a little hilarious when he sighed happily and said, while looking at the imaging, “Your knee is beautiful.” Surgeons. They might just be the goaltenders of the medical world. My knee far exceeded his expectations and the graft meshed with the surrounding bone. The realignment worked and the bone healed around the screws, assimilating them without a fuss. (Please, hold all your Borg jokes; I’ve made them all.)
My battle of recovery isn’t over. Now it’s the hard work of retraining my knee to bend, to bear weight while doing so, and to teach my body how to walk again. It’s only in the past six weeks that I’ve been able to walk without the brace and crutches, learning to trust that my knee will hold me up. I’ve spent the last 13 months walking with a limp, and with a stiff gait for the preceding 13 years, and it’s taking work to unlearn all of that. I’ll be able to take up rowing again in the new year, to play pickup soccer in the backyard, and do stairs. All without pain that I had grown far too used to. I’ve got about three to four more months of recovery to go. Nearly 18 months in total since that night in August, and six from the procedure in June. I’m exhausted just thinking about how long it’s been. Needless to say, my mental health has taken a hit during all of this.
I’ve got a lot of physical work left to do and I need to focus on reclaiming the things I lost over the last year, to help my mental health rebound. I’m a writer and not having the energy to write has been maddening. I’ve begun writing again though, finally, in the past few weeks. I’ve actually managed to crank out close to 250 pages on a couple of different projects, in addition to my playoff coverage over at the Dallas site. I’ve begun to do more volunteering ahead of the general election in November, while contemplating a more permanent (hopefully paid) involvement in politics. What’s life if you can’t make it one giant West Wing reference and make former President Barack Obama proud all in one go?
In light of the physical and mental struggle I’ve been working through in the past few months, I’ve made the hard decision to step back from my role at Hockey Wilderness in an effort to focus on my physical health and reclaiming the parts of me that I lost due to both surgeries. It isn’t a choice I’ve made lightly and I am going to miss working with an incredible staff on a great platform. It was an amazing adventure, coming onboard to write about a hockey team in transition and the resulting season. I know the site will continue to thrive and that our wonderful staff will continue to deliver the great content you’ve all come to love. I’m grateful for my time with the site and wish everyone — the staff and readers — the best. If you want to keep up with my recovery updates, tempered with sports talk and political thoughts, feel free to follow me on Twitter.
It’s been real, Wilderness readers. See you on the flip side.