There are moments when Kirk Daubenspeck can't help but stop and ponder his fate. When he does, he reaches out to his wife Peggy and their two kids: Axel, 2, and Elsa, 4 months.
"A lot of times I will stop and pause for 30 seconds and give them a huge hug,'' said the former UW goaltender. "I'm almost in tears every time I do it right now.''
Looking ahead to Friday night when he will be recognized before the Denver-Wisconsin game at the Kohl Center, he admitted, "I'm sure I will have to fight back tears, or not even fight them back at all.''
There may be no more fitting recognition of Daubenspeck's fighting spirit than the fact that he will be dropping the puck at center ice in a ceremonial faceoff between the Pioneers and the Badgers.
A year ago to the day -- Feb. 17, 2011 -- he was involved in a frightening car-truck accident near Dodgeville that left him in a coma due to a severe brain injury.
The very next day, there was enough concern about his welfare that a moment of silence was observed before the start of the Minnesota-Wisconsin game at the Kohl Center.
Daubenspeck, a medical equipment salesman, was planning on attending that series opener against the Gophers with two of his former UW teammates: Mark Strobel and Jamie Spencer.
Following the accident, nobody knew when or even if he would come out of the coma. Strobel left the ticket stub from the game in Daubenspeck's hospital room.
"I told Dauber to give it back to me,'' Strobel said, "when he comes out of this.''
That should bring context to how far he has traveled in a year and why the simple function of walking on to the ice will have so much more meaning for him.
"Not too often in my (hockey-playing career) have I accepted an honor like this with as much pride as I have now,'' said Daubenspeck, 37. "It's going to be real special.''
Then again, he noted, "Everything is that much more special obviously when you get to the brink like I did." Especially, he added, "Knowing what the alternative could be.''
What he doesn't know won't hurt him, either. That would be his response to any probing about that fateful morning and what he remembers. "I really don't have any memories,'' he said.
But he hasn't forgotten the people who provided support -- emotionally and financially -- throughout the hockey community and beyond.
In this light, Daubenspeck singled out his wife Peggy for "being such a rock'' and keeping the family together during some trying moments when there were more questions than answers.
"Our parents and siblings have also been phenomenal,'' he emphasized. "And I don't want to undermine the appreciativeness for all of these people that I had beforehand.'
"But, boy, oh boy, it's a different kind of gratefulness now, that's for sure.''
He learned something important from all of this, too, if he didn't already know it. "Surround yourself with great people because it pays dividends,'' he said.
Physically, he estimated that he's about 60 to 70 percent of the way back. Keep in mind that he always raised the bar very high for himself and "what I'm used to is higher than the outside world.''
Daubenspeck's standards were those of an All-America goaltender for the Badgers.
"But there have been little things I'm not used to,'' he said. "Like my speech, not being able to express my true feelings and having things on the tip of my tongue. I'm not at the level I was before.
"But if you saw me walking on the street or talked to me in a restaurant, you probably wouldn't notice a huge difference or notice too much different about me.''
He's the same old Dauber who always loved listening to the Grateful Dead. Except that he's more grateful than ever.
"I truly feel like there's a family-type atmosphere here at Wisconsin,'' Daubenspeck said, "and everyone has proven that to me -- not that they had to prove it.
"Maybe I'm just more appreciative."