The screams quieted Munn Ice Arena.
With his facemask buried in the ice, Jake Parenteau’s voice echoed off the cold surface. The Gophers senior defenseman squirmed while laying up against the boards in pain, his right leg broken and dangling.
What hurt Parenteau most, though, was what this injury would mean.
“It really didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. I was just more mad because I knew something was wrong,” Parenteau said. “I thought I might not play the rest of the year. That was really the only thing that was in my head. Senior year, big injury.”
It didn’t look good. Parenteau pulled at his teammates’ gear as they helped him off the ice. He wouldn’t return that night, Dec. 6 at Michigan State, or for the next seven weeks.
An X-ray confirmed the broken leg. The fibula was shattered in at least four spots, Parenteau said, and the tibia was fractured. It took nine screws and a plate to repair the bone. Only time could heal the senior’s mental health.
A productive effort at Wisconsin last weekend completed this journey. For the first time in 2 ½ months, Parenteau was skating with complete confidence and delivering the type of hits his teammates were used to seeing.
“I think we knew right away it was a tough injury because of the way he was getting off the ice,” Gophers defenseman Brady Skjei said. “We were a little worried, but he actually came back earlier than we thought, so it was a big help.”
Parenteau’s help will be needed again this weekend against No. 10 Michigan at Mariucci Arena.
Parenteau relives the injury in slow motion. It was a Friday night at East Lansing, Mich., and the game was barely five minutes old.
In only his second shift, his hit on Michigan State forward Mackenzie MacEachern was hard and clean, but Parenteau was the one that didn’t get up.
His right skate got caught on the boards and his body kept moving.
“I felt it snap,” he said, “and it was just kind of dangling there.”
Associate head coach Mike Guentzel, who oversees the Gophers defensemen, had the same thoughts as his veteran defenseman, fearing Parenteau’s season was over. Trainer Jeff Winslow told Guentzel what he wanted to hear.
“I was relieved it was a break,” Guentzel said. “That sounds odd, but I was glad it was a break and not a knee tear. … I at least knew there was a chance we were going to get Jake back.”
An expedited recovery wouldn’t be easy.
The uncomfortable plane ride back to Minneapolis gave Parenteau plenty of time to consider the process. The Sunday after the injury he was given a timeline — six to seven weeks. Surgery was performed on Monday and later that night Parenteau tweeted X-rays of his broken and repaired bone side-by-side.
The next two weeks consisted of icing and resistance band workouts. The plates and screws gave him the support he needed, and the remaining recovery time was up to him.
Four weeks after the break, he was back on the ice nursing what he called a “good sore.” It hurt, he said, and his Achilles’ tendon felt like a wet piece of leather.
“I was worried but at the same time pretty determined to do whatever it takes to get back out here for the last half of the season, especially my senior year,” Parenteau said. “Jeff [Winslow] really helped me in that aspect of getting my mobility and strength back.”
An early return
The unexpected loss of two more Gophers defenseman — Michael Brodzinski (injury) and Ben Marshall (game disqualification) — forced Parenteau back into action a week early.
Guentzel had hoped for a less stressful environment for Parenteau’s return. Instead, he returned for the North Star College Cup championship game on Jan. 25 against longtime rival Minnesota Duluth in front of nearly 15,000 fans at Xcel Energy Center.
The rust and nerves were evident, but Guentzel said the team needed Parenteau’s veteran presence.
He has played a big role on the Gophers’ penalty kill and is among the team leaders in plus-minus (plus-15) despite only playing 18 games. That rating puts him third in the conference and tied for ninth in the nation among defensemen.
“Mentally, especially the first game coming back, it was hard to break through that barrier,” Parenteau said. “It felt like my first game again. … It was really fun to have those butterflies again and being able to play under that pressure.”
The Parenteau family also had butterflies. His parents left behind a ski trip in northern Minnesota and rushed to the Twin Cities for their son’s return to the ice. He was plus-1 with a block in his return.