Chase Schaber attended NHL training camp with the Edmonton Oilers in 2011. He was in his third year with the Kamloops Blazers, and served as the team captain for the latter two of those years. A little more than a year ago, he led the Blazers to the WHL playoffs.
"I was having a great playoff run and I was playing my best," Schaber said. "I know there were (pro) teams looking at me, and I was going to walk through one of those doors.
"But then the injury happened."
And it was no ordinary injury.
"It was the third game of the playoffs, first shift, not even 10 seconds in," Schaber said. "I go to finish a check and the other guy kind of spins around and does kind of a roundhouse karate kick.
"As I skated through him, he kicked me in the back of the knee with the heel of his skate blade. I felt something snap in the back of my hamstring, and I was like, 'Uh-oh.' "
Schaber knew he was in pain, but didn't know the severity of the injury.
"I started skating to the bench, and I thought it was an impact hit, like a charley horse thing," he said. "But I go back to the bench and I look down, and I said to my trainer, 'Look.' We looked down and there was a bunch of blood shooting out of my leg. From there, I don't remember the next, probably 5 minutes. I kind of passed out."
The cut was gruesome, and it was deep. But it could have been worse.
"In surgery, they said I was millimeters away from severing the artery," the 6-foot, 195-pound Schaber said. "Had it got to that point, the doctors said there was a good chance they would have amputated my leg."
He still didn't get the most encouraging prognoses.
"You hear words like, 'Yeah, you probably won't be able to play hockey again, and you'll be lucky to walk with a limp,' '' he said. "That gives you motivation to say, 'You know what, I'm going to play again. I can do this.' ''
And he has.
After playing a season at the University of Lethbridge, Schaber decided to pursue a pro career and joined the Steelheads in early March.
"It's not easy to come in at the time of the year he did, on a good team making the playoffs," Idaho coach Brad Ralph said.
Schaber found a way to quickly win over his new teammates by scoring two game-winning goals in his first three games.
Fellow forward Austin Fyten played with Schaber when they were 8 years old, and he played against him later as the two moved through the junior ranks.
"He was always a top-ranked guy, always right there with the top guys," Fyten said.
Now the two are on the same team, playing against the Ontario Reign in the ECHL Western Conference semifinals. The series is knotted at one game apiece, with Game 3 on Wednesday night at CenturyLink Arena.
After what he's been through, nobody is savoring the playoffs more than Schaber.
"I'm just taking it game-by-game and enjoying every moment," said Schaber, 22. "Some guys, at the end of their career you look at their record and they haven't been through many playoffs. So you've got to cherish it and go after it."
Schaber hasn't forgotten about the injury, but he doesn't dwell on it, either.
"I thought about it a lot when I first got injured," he said. "You ask why. But I've moved on, and I just have to keep working hard to get to that next step."
His coach wouldn't bet against him.
"He's in great shape, and he's got a great build for a hockey player," Ralph said. "He's a natural skater, probably one of the best skaters on our team. He's got all the tools."
Chris Langrill: 377-6424