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Denver hockey player Jesse Martin feels fortunate after injury at Grand Forks

University of Denver hockey player Jesse Martin walks to a news conference Tuesday at Craig Hospital in Denver. AP Photo/ Ed Andrieski

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -- The stabilizing metal halo on his head served as a stark reminder of the on-ice collision that left University of Denver hockey player Jesse Martin with a broken neck, but he made it clear Tuesday that he feels fortunate.

Making a point of walking under his own power into a news conference at Craig Hospital, where he's continuing his rehabilitation, Martin said he was thankful for his doctors and for the outpouring of support from family and friends and his team and school. Though he faces months of additional rehab, he said he couldn't have come this far in his recovery without them.

He said he drew encouragement from the many people that he didn't even know who sent him letters and e-mails from across the United States and Canada, including his hometown of Edmonton, Alberta.

"I'm feeling like one of the most grateful people on the planet right now," Martin said.

One of Martin's vertebrae was fractured in three places in an Oct. 30 game at North Dakota when he was hit on a check by forward Brad Malone.

He was taken to a Grand Forks hospital and later taken to Regions Hospital, in St. Paul, Minn., where in a Nov. 8 operation specialists Drs. Robert Morgan and Alex Mendez inserted a screw into the broken vertebrae and realigned two others. He was brought back Monday to Craig Hospital, renowned for its treatment of patients with spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries.

He said he reminds himself often that coming out of the injury as well as he already has was like, as one of his doctors put it, "hitting the Power Ball lottery twice.

"I can't even express how humbling this experience has been for me, even walking through this hospital and seeing people with similar injuries and how differently it could have gone," Martin said, speaking with his father, Terry Martin,and his coach, George Gwozdecky, at his side.

Martin said he's still dealing with some tingling and numbness in his arms and needs to continue regaining strength in his legs, but has been told by his doctors that he may be able to begin outpatient therapy by the end of this week. A full recovery and perhaps even a return to hockey, while a long shot, is not out of the question, though Martin said he's not even really thinking about that at this point.

The elder Martin said the family has been overwhelmed, both by the outpouring of support and by the grit and determination his son has shown in dealing with such a traumatic injury.

"It's a miracle to me that he survived first of all," Terry Martin said, "because he's in that 1 percent club to survive. But then to see the trajectory of his recovery is unbelievable."

Martin, a senior center on Denver's team, said he does recall the hit and has even watched it on video. He said he was working the puck along the boards, lost it momentarily and then reached for it, leaving himself in a vulnerable position and unaware of the approaching Malone. Malone's shoulder rammed into Martin's neck and head, and Martin fell to the ice motionless.

"I didn't see Malone coming at all, so I wasn't able to brace myself," he said. "I couldn't move my arms. I tried to move my legs. That wasn't happening. I knew there was something completely wrong."

Martin said he still loves hockey and doesn't blame Malone, whom he called after a North Dakota assistant phoned him while he was in the hospital in Minnesota.

"He told me Brad was struggling with things and was taking it pretty hard," Martin recalled.

Martin decided to call Malone himself.

"There was no need for both of us to be feeling like this," he said. "I saw the hit. I watched the hit. I thought it was OK. He was obviously skating pretty fast and that's what caused such an impact but I was vulnerable and not really ready for it. I just kind of told him I didn't hold him responsible and I didn't want him to carry the guilt around and have it affect the way he played because I admired the way he played. He plays hard, just like that team does. I just wanted him to know, from my end, that there was no blame or anger being felt towards him."

Martin said he plans to return to Edmonton within the next few weeks to continue his recovery and then hopefully return to school in time for the start of the winter quarter. He said he wants to be there to support his coach and teammates as they have supported him.