Detroit — Having been through this before, Robby Fabbri quickly knew what had happened.
It was the March 10 game against Minnesota and Fabbri went into the corner for a puck battle. So did Minnesota defenseman Jon Merrill, a former Wings teammate, and the two got entangled.
“We’re both thinking the same thing, stick on puck,” Fabbri said. “I guess my leg twisted funny behind me.”
And Fabbri felt a familiar pain. One he has encountered twice before, both times that resulted in surgery. As a result of the play, it would be a third time. The first two incidents resulted in a torn left ACL.
This time it was the right knee.
“I felt what I felt before, and I knew right away when it happened,” Fabbri said. “Once you ask anyone who has felt that feeling, you kind of know if you feel it again. Same thing with my second one, and this one. It’s unfortunate, but what can you do?”
Fabbri met with the media for the first time since the injury. Fabbri had surgery five weeks ago, and he is slowly beginning the rehabilitation.
Admittedly, the first few days after the injury were difficult. But, at no point did Fabbri dwell on why this keeps happening to him, wondering about the incredible rotten luck with his knees.
“I’ve never had that,” Fabbri said. “My mentality through injuries and life is everyone goes through what they’re going to go through. Life is always going to throw curveballs at you. The less you dwell on that and the more you move forward, the easier things get.
“Those first few days were pretty emotional for me and my family. It’s not only me that has been through these injuries; my family has been there through it all, and my fiancée. It was tough on all of us. I haven’t been emotional like that in a very long time. I got it out of the way the first few days and then put my head down and got to work.”
Fabbri credited his fiancée, parents and extended family with being supportive and being there for him during those first few difficult days.
“Between my fiancée at home, my dogs and my family back in Toronto, they’re a big part of it,” Fabbri said. “The minute I feel down, I’ll hop on Facetime with someone, or I’ll go grab a coffee or a drink with my fiancée and just get your mind off things.
“There’s more to life than just hockey, so it’s good to step away mentally sometimes.”
Because of his previous experiences, Fabbri understands what needs to be done and what it will take to get back on the ice.
Fabbri has slowly begun doing some physical work at Little Caesars Arena and recently ditched his crutches and knee brace, freeing him to get around better and not rely as much on others.
Still, Fabbri understands better than most that this process will not be easy.
“It’s no walk in the park,” he said. “I had some very down moments in my last surgeries and some good moments. You kind of figure out what works for you and how to get yourself through those tough times where you feel like things are plateauing and moving slow. It’s a whole process to it, and a lot of it’s mental.”
Training camp for the Wings will begin around mid-September, but Fabbri isn’t sure currently if he’ll be completely ready.
“We’re going to play it by ear,” Fabbri said. “We’ll work with the medical staff, and the goal is to get back as soon as possible, but doing it the right way and doing it safe and making sure this is the last time.
“With this kind of process, it’s slow; it’s day by day. You listen to the knee, and you progress as much as the knee is going to allow. Unfortunately, going through this, I know what to expect and not to set goals and dates, because each surgery is different and each person going through it is different.
“I got all the knowledge I need to work through this.”
This knee injury occurred just three months after Fabbri, 26, signed a three-year contract extension, worth $12 million (a cap hit of $4 million per season) that will begin next season.
When the knee injury happened, Fabbri had 17 goals, one shy of his career high, with 13 assists and 30 points. Since being acquired by the Wings in November 2019, Fabbri has been a steady and consistent offensive producer.
Former Wings coach Jeff Blashill consistently said Fabbri played his best hockey when fearless and tenacious. Fabbri believes he will be the same type of player when he returns for a third time from knee surgery.
“I don’t think it’s in me as a person or player to take a step back and not play as hard or as fearless as I do,” Fabbri said. “Playing that way has gotten me to where I am now. It’s going to continue to move me forward through my career and as a player.
“I know it’s going to be a tough summer, but these are the things that create character, and you want to prove something to yourself, going through something like this. That’s kind of the way I look at it.”