Updated: January 9, 2013 at 12:00 am
George Michalke III still sees double from time to time.
The Air Force junior forward is in the midst of a lengthy rehabilitation as he recovers from a vicious hit he sustained in the Falcons’ 1-1 tie at Canisius in Buffalo, N.Y., on Oct. 25, and, considering his injuries, the vision issues he deals with are no surprise. Late in the second period, Canisius’ Matthew Grazen slammed into Michalke from behind, checking him viciously into the glass and sending him to the ice in a heap.
Grazen was tossed from the game, and Michalke had to be helped off the ice. Along with his parents, Kathy and George, who were attending the game, Michalke was sent to an area hospital, where doctors found broken bones in the left side of his face and evidence of a massive concussion.
“I really don’t remember much from the night, other than waking up in the hospital,” Michalke said. “Luckily, my mom and dad were there. I went back home with my mom and dad and didn’t really do anything.
“The first few days, I slept probably 21 hours a day.”
After a brief return to the academy, Michalke returned home to Parma, Ohio, just south of Cleveland, to stay with his family while he recovers from the injuries. Under the guidance of world-renowned concussion specialist Dr. Micky Collins of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Michalke is working to return to 100 percent.
He is officially on an “extended convalescent leave” from the academy and will miss the remainder of the Falcons’ season. Right now, his job is to get better.
“The vision is what I’m working on now, and it’s a process,” said Michalke, who was given the OK to drive a car again a couple of weeks ago. “I think it’s actually my official duty right now, so every day, that’s my focus.”
Michalke said he has not spoken to Grazen — although he heard from Canisius coach Dave Smith — but has seen video of the hit. One thing came to mind when he watched the replay.
“I’m glad that I tried to get up,” Michalke said. “I told myself that I was never going to lie on the ice if I got hurt, and that’s always something I’d had pride about. So, I’m glad ‘Subconscious George’ tried to get off the ice.”
Michalke’s injury was a tough one for coach Frank Serratore to witness.
“You hate to see that happen to anybody on any team,” said Serratore, who said Michalke has an “open door” if and when he wants to return to the team. “Hockey is a collision sport, and he was dealt a very vicious blow. From a team standpoint, we lost a good teammate.”
Michalke, who had 10 points in each of his first two seasons, has been missed by his teammates, on and off the ice.
“He’s a great team guy, and everyone loves it when he’s around,” fellow junior forward Tony Thomas said. “He’s an energy guy and is always buzzing around out there making plays. It’s no fun for us not having him here, but at the same time, we definitely want him to be able to compete at his highest level.”
That is exactly Michalke’s plan. Based on how his rehab progresses, he said he plans to apply for a medical redshirt from the NCAA since he only played in five games this season.
But the 5-foot-11, 165-pounder has other, bigger goals.
“First and foremost, I just want to get back (to school), graduate and become an officer,” he said. “August 1 is my tentative return date, and once I get cleared by the doctors, I don’t see that changing. It’s definitely a goal to go back to class, get back in the cadet wing and hopefully have the opportunity to represent the academy again on the ice.”
As often is the case with athletes in these situations, Michalke has learned a great deal from the experience.
“I think mostly (I learned) how much having the right attitude about things helps,” he said. “Each day, I’m learning something new about myself, and I think this process is going to have an impact on me for the rest of my life. It’s up to me what happens going forward.
“I can turn it into a positive and go back stronger in every aspect, and that’s definitely what I plan on doing. I feel like I’m going to make a full recovery, and when I do, I think I’ll be playing hockey again.”