Martin Reway won’t soon forget the day in August when he took his first steps on the ice after being away from hockey for a year.
“It was really exciting,” he said. “The first steps on the ice were nice, really. Enjoying the skate and everything – skating with the puck, the shooting drills, it was really nice to be back.”
It was a year ago, in preparation for the Montreal Canadiens camp, when Reway woke up one morning feeling sick. Following a visit with doctors, the Canadiens fourth-round selection at the 2013 draft was told he had an inflammation of the heart.
“It took a while before they found out what was wrong with me,” Reway recalled. “But after a while... they did a lot of tests on me and they found out what was going on.”
Reway spent the next several months on medication, which prevented him from playing the game he had dedicated his life to.
The 22-year-old credited friends and family for keeping things positive when it looked as though his hockey career might come to an abrupt end.
“I didn’t see them for a long time because of hockey so I was able to see them again and they were really nice to me, always believed that I was going to play again,” said Reway. “It’s just the simple things, you don’t need to hear, but when you hear that, you get better feelings.”
Reway wasn’t 100 per cent sure he’d return to the game until he travelled to Montreal this year for tests and camp.
“I was never sure. I think even before I went to the camp we didn’t know,” Reway said. “We did a lot of medical tests, everything was alright so I was cleared to go. (In Montreal) we did the same tests and I don’t need that medicine again so I’m cleared to play.”
The five-foot-nine, 173-pound forward is no stranger to North American hockey. He spent two seasons with the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League scoring 42 goals and 112 points in 90 regular season games.
Picked 116th overall by the Canadiens, Reway returned to his town of birth Prague for the 2014/15 season playing for Sparta.
“I had the choice, I could play pro in Europe against more experienced players, I’m going to learn much more than in juniors I think,” Reway said of the decision. “I don’t regret it at all, I played with some incredible players, I played against some incredible players. Played for a lot of championships. I wouldn’t be able to be at that level if I went (back) to junior, I think.”
Playing in Sparta also allowed Reway an opportunity to learn from one-time Colorado Avalanche forward Jaroslav Hlinka.
“I was lucky enough to play with him on the same line in Sparta and we really had good chemistry together, I think. He was kind of my idol there,” said Reway. “I always liked his game so I was trying to be at least at the same level like him. Always watching what he does under pressure. I tried to learn.”
Reway split the 2015/16 season between Sparta and Fribourg-Gotteron in Switzerland’s National League before the illness wiped out his 2016/17 season.
“I think you should not play on the medicine, it was a high (dosage) of medicine, we went slowly down and see how I’m going to react,” Reway said. “I felt alright, so I knew I was going to be alright to play, but you don’t know if you’re going to be able to play at NHL (level), but I was sure I was going to play again.”
During the pre-season with the Canadiens Reway showed flashes of his offensive game. Despite missing an entire season, his speed is still there, however, his conditioning isn’t where it needs to be.
Reway was destined for a season in the American Hockey League with the Laval Rocket.
“I’m trying to become a more all-round player,” he said. “I was focusing on the offence when I was younger, I knew I was good at it, I was trying to improve it a bit. As I get older, I’m trying to work more on the defensive side.”
However, after five games Reway and the Canadiens agreed on dissolving the contract. A sign that the two-time World Championship participant (2014, 2016) and World Junior bronze medallist (2015) for Slovakia may hone his skills back in a European pro league on his way back to becoming a top player.