It's hard to imagine anyone questioning Colin Chaulk's toughness, but some fans were doing exactly that as the Komets' captain muddled his way through his last nine games with no goals and five assists.
What those fans didn't know was that Chaulk, 36, could barely lift his arm, that his body seemed to be deteriorating, and that he felt helpless to stop it.
"I probably shouldn't have been playing," he said late Wednesday. "But I thought I was well enough and that things would get better."
Chaulk is regarded as the greatest leader in the 61-year history of the franchise – he's led them to five championships since joining them in 2002 – and he's had his share of scares off the ice.
In 2008-09, a MRSA staph infection in his foot cost him 35 games and almost his career.
It seemed extraordinarily bad luck when he got another staph infection in his other foot last December, this one costing him 26 games.
But that infection was more debilitating that most people knew. Doctors believed they had it under control, Chaulk said, but it came back and he suddenly had 103 fever, lost consciousness and was taken to a local hospital Jan. 11.
Chaulk said he has since had problems with his brachial plexus and phrenic nerve, parts of the spine that control movement of the limbs and breathing.
"It's messing up my speech sometimes. There's paralysis of the muscles, which are weakening, and it's like there's nothing I can do," Chaulk said. "And it's getting worse. … My arm basically feels like it's asleep and my left eye closes a little sometimes, which is a little frightening. It's just bizarre what's going on. I have no strength of control or my left thumb and left index finger."
With the Komets still hoping to make the playoffs – they were eliminated from contention with their 8-2 loss to Reading on Wednesday – he came back to play from Feb. 16 to March 8. Since then, he's been behind the bench as Al Sims' assistant coach.
For the season, Chaulk totaled two goals and 22 points in 28 games, though he was also limited by a shoulder injury and a groin strain, which took him out of the lineup for good in March. Chaulk, who has 184 goals and 684 points in 578 games with the Komets, doesn't know if he will retire or continue playing next season.
"I need to get healthy before I decide," he said, adding the Komets have been great about making sure he gets the best treatment for his ailments.
He wants to be a head coach someday and many believe he'll someday be the Komets' head coach eventually, though indications are Sims will be back next season.
If Chaulk's playing career is done, he hopes will fans will understand why he looked off in his final games.
"I think people should know what's going on," said Chaulk, as the Komets traveled to Elmira, N.Y., for Friday's game.