Edmonton Oilers defenceman Kurtis Foster got a nomination for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy last season for his comeback from a badly broken left leg with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but it’s how he’s overcome a broken heart that makes him truly remarkable.
I’ve held off writing about Foster’s heartbreak until now, but with the Oilers in Minnesota to take on the Wild Thursday night, it seems like an appropriate time to mention it for those not familiar with what he’s been through.
It was while he was playing with Minnesota, at the end of the 2007-08 season, Foster sustained his career-threatening injury in a game against San Jose when he was knocked into the boards by Sharks rookie Torrey Mitchell. He didn’t get up.
Foster needed surgery and the insertion of a rod in his leg to repair the damage. Between recovering and rehab, he missed most of the 2008-09 season, playing just 10 games with the Wild.
Signed by Tampa Bay the following summer, Foster surprised everybody by putting up career numbers, scoring 8-34-42 in 71 games on the way to his Masterton nomination. Gutsy stuff.
That, it turns out, was the easy part.
Last May 10, less than two months before he signed as a free agent with the Oilers, Foster and wife Stephanie lost their first child, daughter Lila Kimberly, who died as the result of a head injury sustained during birth just five days after being born.
"I don’t know how to explain it," Foster told beat writer Mike Russo, who covers the Wild for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and told Foster’s story in today’s editions of the newspaper.
"It was the hardest thing that’s ever happened to me, that’s ever happened to my wife or could ever happen to anybody, but Steph and I have stuck together. It’s a long, tough process."
It will be a lifelong process. Sometimes, probably too often, we forget that athletes like Foster are people first — sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. What they do isn’t who they are.
Thankfully, most of us haven’t had to endure the kind of heartache Foster is dealing with right now as he returns to Minnesota to face the Wild for the first time as a member of the Oilers.
In a lot of cases, the real storylines can’t be found in the numbers or the game notes, and this is one of them. That Foster is back playing hockey at all so soon is testament to what he’s made of.
Just a thought: Let’s keep the life-altering event Foster and his wife have been through in mind as we mentally grade his performance, and that of all the Oilers, early this season. As always, perspective.
Minnesota used to be one of my favourite stops on the road, but the Xcel Energy Centre has been less than welcoming to the Oilers — they have lost 13 straight games to the Wild on home ice.
How long has that been? The Oilers haven’t won in Minnesota since they beat the Wild 2-1 on Jan. 16, 2007. That’s long enough that just five players, Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky, Ladislav Smid, Tom Gilbert and Zack Stortini, remain from that team.
I’ll never forget that last win for two reasons. First, I remember Craig MacTavish making Brad Winchester a healthy scratch, even though Winchester’s parents had flown out from Wisconsin for the game. I remember thinking at the time, "Winchester’s done here."
That win was also the last Oilers road game I covered as the beat man for the local tabloid. It turns out I was done with them (more accurately, they were done with me), even though I didn’t know it yet.
AND . . .
— Rod Phillips will be back behind the microphone Saturday in Calgary for the first of 10 games he’ll be calling on 630 CHED this season. Phillips will work with analyst Bob Stauffer. New play-by-play man Jack Michaels gets the night off.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.