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Mike Robitaille is a picture of health on television commercials that air daily on local stations.

He advises men where to get treated for prostate issues, explains where to get dental implants and tells customers what cheese to buy. But those commercials were filmed some time before the Buffalo Sabres studio analyst was seriously injured Feb. 3.

On his way to a Sabres game, he had stopped at a light on Oak Street when a a car behind him rammed his BMW, which hit the car in front of him, Robitaille said. Almost instantly, he knew he was in trouble.

"I couldn't move my arms; I couldn't move my legs," he said. "My nose was itchy, I couldn't scratch my nose. I couldn't get my cell phone. I couldn't do anything. . . . I knew it was spinal. My arms and legs -- there was nothing there."

Some feeling returned later that night, but so did pain and fears. Five weeks later, after Dr. Kevin Gibbons -- the same neurosurgeon who treated Bills tight end Kevin Everett -- attached his vertebrae to a metal rod, Robitaille walks slowly with a cane, wears a neck brace and is on painkillers.

The Sabres' suggestion after the crash that he would return to analyze hockey games after the Olympics seems extremely optimistic. They described it as a "minor chain reaction" accident.

"It might be minor to them; it didn't seem minor to me," Robitaille laughed as he sat in a chair alongside Isabel, his wife of 40 years, in her Williamsville real estate office.

He hasn't lost his sense of humor or his sense of optimism.

"I think I'm damn lucky," Robitaille said. "I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. My cord was so tight to the spinal canal that [the doctor] couldn't make his fingers small enough to show how much working room he had. If that bone would have been shoved any harder against the cord . . . "

He didn't have to finish the sentence. He knows that he could have been paralyzed.

"Oh, easily," he said. "I could be left with some [problems] as it is. I don't know how much I am going to get back. I can't even take a shower."

For the Robitailles, the accident was deja vu all over again. His National Hockey League career ended in 1977 when he broke his neck while playing injured for the Vancouver Canucks.

"This brought back memories that we had pushed behind us," Isabel Robitaille said. "They came back like a tsunami. It brought me back to when he left the [Vancouver] dressing room 33 years ago."

After the car crash, Robitaille immediately thought of the surgeon who had operated on Everett after he suffered a spinal injury on the field.

"I see [Dr. Kevin J.] Gibbons at the games every now and then," Robitaille said. "I couldn't remember his name to save my life."

And in this case, his life needed saving. The night of the accident, Robitaille was sent home after an X-ray and a CT scan revealed no fractures.

"It was the worst night of my life," he said. He was in excruciating pain and spent most of the night on the couch or the floor to relieve the pain.

Concerned that her husband was experiencing neurological symptoms similar to the ones that followed the neck fracture in the higher cervical area that had ended his hockey career, Isabel called Gibbons' office.

By then, Robitaille, too, recalled the doctor's name. "It was like a neon sign: 'Kevin Gibbons, Kevin Gibbons, Kevin Gibbons,' " he said.

A week later, Gibbons aligned several vertebrae with titanium rods and 10 screws.

"They said because he is so muscular that really protected him from a more severe injury," Isabel Robitaille said.

The road back for Robitaille involved six days -- including his 62nd birthday -- in intensive care at a local hospital. After a day home when the pain was too much, Robitaille spent 10 days in DeGraff Memorial Hospital.

He was at DeGraff on the 43rd anniversary of his meeting Isabel in a cafeteria at a Kitchener, Ont., hospital where she worked.

"I came in with a broken ankle," Robitaille cracked. "Most guys usually use a bar. In my case, I liked picking girls up in hospitals."

He's been home two weeks and has therapy three days a week. But he isn't himself yet. Robitaille apologized because he has to pick up a cup of coffee with the sides of his two hands because it's too painful to do it the normal way. His wife explained that the nerve endings are so sensitive that Robitaille has trouble touching anything without hurting.

He misses his work on the Sabres broadcasts.

"I watch the games; I see things; and there are things I want to say. I miss hanging out with my guys. I love my work. It's a joke I even get paid. I've done this for almost 30 years. It's stealing money."

Before he can get back on MSG, the Madison Square Garden sports network, he has to learn how to walk normally and to get off the painkillers, which may cause him to say things that don't make sense.

He also can't return too soon because people would likely show their love by slapping him or pushing him.

"My hands are too sensitive to shake hands," he added.

His wife said he is making daily progress, and Robitaille said he is where he should be at this point. But he wants to be someplace else April 6.

"If I'm going to set [a goal], it would be good to do that final home game before they go into the playoffs," Robitaille said. "Do one game and get my feet underneath me for the playoffs."

But he will leave that call to the doctor. "I'll guarantee you one thing: No one is going to tell me when to go back other than Kevin Gibbons. The last time [in Vancouver] I listened to some other people, it didn't work out very good."

He has felt the fans' love from as far away as Europe and California, receiving prayers, get-well messages, Mass cards, flowers, gifts from fans and representatives of other NHL teams. People he hasn't met have offered him their vacation homes to recuperate.

"It is so humbling," Robitaille said. "I didn't know that many people cared. I want to thank them for their generosity and thinking of me."

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com