CANTON — Jared Keller hobbled into Appleton Arena on Tuesday, his left leg stiff beneath his blue jeans.
He quietly changed into a T-shirt and shorts, which revealed a brace encasing his damaged knee.
On Saturday night, Keller took his final hit as a college hockey player. It snapped his medial collateral ligament.
“I saw the guy coming at the last minute,” Keller said. “He came from the other side of the ice as hard as he could. He went low and I tried to jump over him. He hit my knee first and just completely tore my MCL.”
Keller hadn't experienced a knee injury in his hockey career. He thought perhaps the excruciating pain was just a result of the hit. So when SLU coach Joe Marsh asked if he could go out the next shift, he of course obliged.
“I knew it was painful,” Keller said. “I walked on the ice. There was a face off right in front of our bench and I went to push off my left foot and it literally felt like my leg disconnected from my knee. That was it. I got carried to the locker room and called it a night.”
It may have ended his night, but it hasn't broken his will. He continues to show support for his teammates as they head to Yale this week. Keller worked out as best he could in hopes St. Lawrence's season extends long enough for his return.
“I'm going to try to stay in shape just in case there's a miracle I can play again this year,” he said. “I'm just going to try and be a good example for the guys.”
Keller's injury is generally a three-to-six week recovery.
“So two weeks,” Keller joked.
The likelihood of his return is almost nil. A return in three weeks would mean the Saints are playing in the NCAA tournament. That's the best of circumstances.
The interim will be spent cheering from the stands. He's making the trip to New Haven, Conn., brace and all. No one wants him to miss the series.
“He has to go,” Marsh said. “He's such an important part of what goes on in the room. It's hard to really measure — he's a classic case of the whole being so much greater than the sum of the parts.”
The injury is the latest in a two-year battle for Keller. Two concussions during his junior year limited his play to only 11 games. He struggled to stay with the program as doctors sent him away from campus for weeks at a time.
By the start of his senior year, he was poised to lead the team as a captain. But another concussion on opening day sent him reeling.
“That was probably the most disappointing moment of my life,” he said then. “I thought it was some sort of nightmare.”
He spent the first semester resting and recovering. He rode the stationary bike when he could and came to the rink when he felt well enough.
He wasn't cleared to play until January, when he made his return on the road at No. 2 New Hampshire. The Saints pulled off the upset in overtime, and Keller was elated to again be with the team.
He takes his captain status seriously and has never strayed from his dedication to the team. It's no surprise that he'll be on the bus when St. Lawrence heads to Yale this week. It's almost as good as if he could play.
“You can't overstate what he's meant to this team,” Marsh said. “It's better when he's around. He's that good a guy.”