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Penguins

Penguins optimistic about Straka

| Friday, Aug. 23, 2002

Injured forward Martin Straka will not play in the Penguins' regular-season opener Oct. 10. That much is certain.

But Penguins officials are hopeful that Straka will avoid back surgery and return to the lineup before the season grows old.

“I think he'll play this year,” general manager Craig Patrick said Thursday.

“I'm optimistic,” Penguins team physician Dr. Charles Burke said. “From what we've seen, his type of injury would not normally require surgery.”

Straka apparently sustained a compression fracture in his vertebra, a torn ligament and perhaps other injuries in his back in a weight-training accident July 22 in his native Czech Republic. He will fly to Pittsburgh within the next few weeks to be examined by Penguins medical personnel and local spine experts. If it is determined that Straka needs surgery, he won't play this season.

“If he had surgery, it would be six months to recover,” Patrick said. “We're trying to avoid that. Hopefully, there's some healing going on now. We'll know when he gets here and we look at him.”

Straka was scheduled for surgery the day after the accident, but the Penguins wanted him to hold off. That move could pay off handsomely. Patrick said that Straka, who is at home in the Czech Republic, is walking and is not experiencing pain lately. Straka's back is immobilized in a brace. Penguins trainer Mark Mortland spoke with Straka on Tuesday and Wednesday, and Straka wanted to come to Pittsburgh immediately to undergo an MRI and other tests.

Patrick denied the request. The Penguins want Straka to stick to the original plan of staying put for 7-8 weeks after the injury. Patrick says the torn ligament could heal on its own. Burke, who has received some X-rays from Straka's doctors, said the torn ligament isn't necessarily the major problem. He also said that treatments often vary from country to country.

“We don't make as much of the ligament thing as they do (in the Czech Republic),” Burke said. “It's a lot more complicated than just saying he has a torn ligament. The only decision we've made was not to have the surgery done immediately, to undergo some healing in a brace, get a bunch of opinions back here and see what happens.”

Patrick was asked if he was in disbelief when he got the news of Straka's latest injury, when a weight machine collapsed on his back, crushing him under about 300 pounds. The injury occurred after a season in which Straka sustained a broken right tibia, a fractured orbital bone and a re-cracked tibia. He played only 13 games.

“Thinking back, it's not disbelief, because things happen, but you just wonder, ‘When's this going to stop?' Patrick said.

Penguins winger Alexei Kovalev was in disbelief.

“I called him and said, ‘You gotta do something. I mean, it's a curse around you. I mean, how many times (can) you get hurt• I mean, it's just ridiculous. I mean, whatever you do … If I was in your place, I'd be afraid to go anywhere. I mean, just making a step I'd be afraid to get hurt,' ” Kovalev said. “I hope he heals and gets back to the team.”

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