Judd Lambert already has come to grips with the reality that his season is over.
Now the 27-year-old goalie has the next eight months to wonder whether Saturday was his final game for the Augusta Lynx.
"I certainly don't want this to be the end of my hockey career, but at the same time, there are a lot of question marks right now," said Lambert, who suffered torn ligaments in his left knee in Saturday's 4-1 loss to the South Carolina Stingrays at North Charleston Coliseum.
"Really, it all depends on how the surgery and rehab goes. It's going to be a major, serious procedure and a lot of work, from what I understand. You don't know for sure if this is then end for me. That's something I don't even want to think about right now."
Lambert went down at 2:53 of the second period Saturday following a scrum in front of the net. As Stingrays center Buddy Wallace crashed the net, he and Lynx defensemen Martin Lapointe got tangled up and fell on Lambert's outstretched left leg.
Stingrays team doctors told Lambert and Lynx trainer Brian Patafie they were "99 percent sure" he suffered a torn ACL and MCL. If the initial diagnosis holds true, Lambert will undergo reconstructive surgery and be out of action 6-8 months.
In 178 pro games, Lambert is 82-74-17 with a 3.08 goals-against average. With the Lynx, he is 64-51-11 with a 3.00 GAA in 129 games.
"They must have tripped on my leg and fell on it as I extended to make the save," said Lambert, who went 3-2-1 with a 2.48 GAA in seven games this season. "I could feel it bent in a way it wasn't supposed to bend. I kind of knew right away it was pretty bad."
Last season, Lambert missed more than two months of action after he suffered a high ankle sprain while playing for Providence of the American Hockey League.
To that point, the former New Jersey Devils prospect had never missed a game at any level because of injury.
Ten days ago, Lambert left practice after feeling a slight twinge in his right knee. Backup Cris Classen started Augusta's next game - a 2-1 shootout win at South Carolina on Oct. 26 - but Lambert was back in net the following night on the road at Macon.
"It's frustrating, especially after not having anything go wrong my whole career," Lambert said. "Until last year, I'd never missed a game."
On the eve of his fifth pro season, Lambert said, he toyed with the idea of retiring at the end of the 2001-02 campaign, possibly to enroll in law school.
For the Richmond, British Columbia, Canada native, retiring on his own terms is one thing. Being forced into retirement is something completely different.
"Do I want to kick the can again? Absolutely," Lambert said. "(Retiring) crossed my mind over the summer, depending on what happened this year, but I hadn't made a decision. But I definitely don't want it to end like this. For sure, I want to play next year. Now, we'll just have to wait and see what happens."
What happens with the Lynx's goaltending situation is another question coach Jim Burton must address in the coming days.
While Burton is pleased with how well Classen - 2-2-0 with a 2.71 GAA in four games this season - has performed in a backup role, he must decide whether the second-year pro can cut it as a No. 1 goalie in the East Coast Hockey League.
Burton may opt to acquire a proven veteran to fill the void, either through trade or free agency. Because Lambert is one of the highest-paid players on the team, placing him on injured reserve will free up significant room under the salary cap for Burton to go after a veteran netminder.
"This is not the end of the season for the Lynx," Lambert said. "They're going to deal with it and cope with it and do just fine."
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or email@example.com