By Chris Emma-
CHICAGO (CBS) — Fresh off a flight from Philadelphia, a new beginning ahead to mark the end of a career, Kimmo Timonen waited outside O’Hare Airport for his ride.
The car pulled up. His driver was so young, it surely came as a surprise to the 39-year-old Timonen that it was a new Blackhawks teammate, 20-year-old Teuvo Teravainen, giving him a lift.
“I like the kid,” Timonen said of Teravainen. “He could be my son.”
In fact, Timonen could be that father-like figure for most of the Blackhawks. Acquired last Friday from the Flyers for a pair of future picks, Timonen immediately became the team’s senior statesman. But he’s united with Teravainen and a young Chicago core with one goal — to win a Stanley Cup.
Timonen was given several choices by the Flyers as to where he could be dealt, and his top pick worked out. He wanted Chicago and the organization that took from him his best chance to this point at winning a championship. The 2010 Blackhawks bested the Flyers in six games.
“He probably saw the buzz of the town and how much fun it was to be a part of something,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Picking Chicago as the destination for the final season — three months at the most — of his career was simple. It was a decision made six months ago in a hospital when doctors diagnosed Timonen with blood clots, one in his right leg, another in his lung.
Timonen was suffering from a condition that his mother and brother deal with, too. Doctors put it bluntly: The clot in his lungs was a threat to his life. He will be on blood thinners for the rest of his life. Hockey seemed like an afterthought at the time.
Chances were “slim” for a return to hockey for Timonen, but he was willing to take that gamble. He worked for months in a grueling rehabilitation process, seeking medical clearance, which came in early February.
The comeback was nearly complete. Timonen won.
“I wanted to retire with my skates on, not my shoes,” Timonen said. “That was always my goal.”
Returning to the ice was the final hurdle to pass. Timonen hadn’t practiced in more than a year before morning skate Monday at the United Center. Suddenly, his first game back from the ailment that nearly ended a career was with a Blackhawks team in the heat of the Western Conference race.
In his first game back, Timonen played 23 shifts and logged 17:29 of ice time. A four-time NHL All-Star and Olympian was starting from square one, using a regular-season game as a training camp.
“His first game — he hadn’t played in a full year; no training camp, no games at all, no feel for it hadn’t practiced for a time later — I thought it was a very good beginning for him,” Quenneville said. “I expect him to keep improving as it goes on.”
Added Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw: “He looks like he hasn’t missed a step.”
Timonen had the instant admiration of his Blackhawks teammates, many of whom he faced in the 2010 Cup Final. He’s a hockey veteran who battled back for the chance to finish a decorated career on his own terms, not those of his blood clots.
The goal for Timonen wasn’t just to return, it was to return and win a championship. That’s all he’s missing in a 16-year NHL career.
“I bet it’s been really tough not playing, doing the rehab and everything,” Blackhawks defenseman David Rundblad said. “It looks like he really loves hockey. I don’t think he wants to give up yet. That’s why you play in this league — you want to win the Cup. I admire him to keep going and fight back.”
It’s time for Timonen to take one more shot at winning a championship. Chicago is considered the Vegas favorite to win a summer with Lord Stanley’s prize. In an admirable hockey career, it’s the one thing missing.
Such a chance is what drove Timonen from a hospital bed to a 20-year-old’s car and back to the NHL ice.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.