For Casey Borer, it has been a long time coming, with no certainty it would ever come.
Before Thursday, the defenseman had last played in an NHL game on Dec. 11, 2008. For Borer, that seems like it was in another lifetime given all that happened to him since that game in Philadelphia.
Borer was on the Albany River Rats bus when it crashed on a snowy Massachusetts highway on Feb. 19, 2009 and was one of the players most seriously injured. He suffered a broken neck, leaving him in a hospital, leaving his hockey career in jeopardy.
But after surgery, after all the rehab, after returning to the Rats this season, after getting back on the ice, after playing games again, Borer finally was back with the Canes for Thursday's game against the Montreal Canadiens.
"It has been a while," Borer said, smiling. "It's nice to be back. I'm sure people wrote me off."
Borer was told at 8 a.m. Thursday, just before practice in Albany, that he was being recalled. Borer had not been in Raleigh since training camp, when he came for surgery.
Borer said he went through conditioning and then practice for a month before rejoining the Rats' lineup on Jan. 23. He played 30 AHL games, with a goal and eight assists, helping the Rats earn a playoff berth.
"I went through the heavy part of our schedule and felt pretty good," he said.
Borer, 24, was given the AHL's Fred T. Hunt Award as the player in the league who best exemplifies the qualities of sportsmanship, determination and dedicationt to hockey.
Borer had 11 minutes of ice time Thursday in the Canes' 5-2 win, blocking two shots.
"Great for him," Canes coach Paul Maurice said. "We've got some guys who have had a rough run.
"He came in as a player we had a lot of hope for. That injury he went through was very significant and could have been career-ending for a lot of players. We were really happy to get him back and I know he enjoyed playing with most of his teammates from Albany back there."
The Canes had Borer, Brett Carson, Jamie McBain, Jay Harrison and Bryan Rodney on the back end for the Habs. All spent time this season in Albany.
"They played great," Maurice said. "We had seven guys in our lineup who are going to be in the playoffs for Albany."
Including Borer, the comeback Cane.