Fernando ready to roll

From where he was one year ago to where he is today is mind-boggling, if you think about.

Fernando Pisani was back he belongs this morning at Kinsmen Arenas in south Edmonton—lacing his skates, pulling on his equipment and getting ready for training camp with the Edmonton Oilers.

Skating with a dozen or so other Oilers who’ll be ready to go when camp opens with medicals and fitness testing Sept. 19, Pisani looked nothing less than robust as he did drills and jostled for pucks with new teammate Erik Cole and big Zack Stortini.

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Watching him, it was easy to forget that a year ago this week Pisani was laying in a hospital bed at the University of Alberta trying to overcome a bout of ulcerative colitis that stripped more than 30 pounds off his six-foot-one frame and left him so weak he couldn’t walk a flight of stairs without resting.

Back then, in the worst days of the disease, just getting well enough to live a normal life as a husband and father was the goal. Playing hockey for the Oilers again was a distant consideration.

Skip ahead to today, to what I saw this morning, and there’s no hint of Pisani’s ordeal. He’s bigger than ever—215 pounds compared to his old playing weight of 205 pounds—and his mind and body are ready for the rigours of another NHL season.

All the way back is Pisani.

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Darkest Days

“It’s night and day from where I was last year,” said Pisani. “I’m pretty excited to get back on the ice. I’m looking forward to having a good start and just start the season off on the right note.”

The vast majority of Oilers fans know Pisani’s story, and that the bout of career-threatening ulcerative colitis not only kept him out of training camp, but out of the first 26 games of the season. His return against Colorado Oct. 23, made possible by intense drug therapy, came sooner than the most optimistic doctors thought it would.

Pisani’s dogged determination to beat the disease was nothing less than inspiring, a battle that made him a finalist for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded for sportsmanship, perseverance and dedication to the game, after he scored 13-9-22.

If it’s all the same, though, Pisani will happily leave the Masterton race to somebody else.

“You’re not really ever clear of it, but it’s under control,” Pisani said of his disease and his continuing therapy. “I’m happy to be back feeling good. It’s an excitement, really.”

A year ago, Pisani weighed 170 pounds. His weight today, thanks to a stepped-up off-season regimen, represents a swing of 45 pounds.

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It goes without saying that, while Pisani got into 56 games in 2007–08, he wasn’t 100 per cent in many of those.

Looking ahead

Where Pisani, 31, fits in coach Craig MacTavish’s forward mix now is anybody’s guess, given the addition of Cole and the emergence of Sam Gagner, Robert Nilsson and Andrew Cogliano.

That’ll play out at camp and in pre-season—something Pisani couldn’t say a year ago—for the soft-spoken right-winger. He has the offensive touch to play some top-six minutes and the grit and defensive reliability to be an effective third-liner and penalty killer.

“Big difference,” smiles Pisani about the contrast. “Big difference.”

—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 5pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.