About 15 minutes after Wednesday's hockey game, Jason Duda illustrated his condition by leaning away from a table he was sitting on and slowly standing up straight — a basic movement that caused excruciating pain because of a lingering back problem.
But he's used to such discomfort.
What seemed to cause the Wichita Thunder veteran even more misery was discussion about his uncertain future. Duda, who last played on Oct. 25, admitted for the first time — publicly, at least — that his career may be over.
"Unless something drastic happens soon, I don't know if I'm going to get the chance to come back," he said after the team's loss to Rapid City. "It's tough, you know. What I've got (the back problem), it's no fun."
The face of the franchise for years, the outgoing and popular Duda has been serving as the team's interim coach since Brent Bilodeau was fired Nov. 12. While the team was 1-4-2 under Duda entering Friday night's game, the Thunder has shown enough flashes of increased intensity and physical play to please general manager Joel Lomurno.
"The feeling of myself, the staff and the fans who have e-mailed me is that we're pleased with the job he's doing and the style of hockey he's putting on the ice," Lomurno said before Wednesday's game.
Still, the one certainty surrounding the franchise's muddied coaching situation is that Duda doesn't want to fill the vacancy. Not right now.
"I still want to play," he said. "That's my main focus."
Duda has had two epidural shots — the last of which helped reduce the pain but not enough that he could return to the ice. He is eligible to come off injured reserve Tuesday, but neither Duda nor Lomurno expect that to happen.
Lomurno, in his second year as GM, said he views Duda's time as interim coach as a tryout. If Duda is unable to play again and does well as interim coach, he would be a strong candidate for the permanent position, Lomurno said.
Would Duda want to coach the Thunder next year, if he can't play?
"Well, in all honesty, I would have to really think about it," he said. "Would I like the opportunity? Who wouldn't?
"I know I want to be involved in hockey. I've been here doing this for half my life. I love this city, I love the organization, I love the guys in the room."
Missouri 4, Thunder 1
First period—1. Missouri, Sellan (Davis, Christian), 10:29 (pp). 2. Missouri, Vandermeer (Hammond), 13:39 (pp). Penalties— Truelson, Wichita (interference) 5:25; Hanson, Wichita (slashing) 8:59; Lewis, Missouri (slashing) 11:00; Kovalcik, Wichita (fighting major) 13:46; Sellan, Missouri (fighting major) 13:46; Christian, Missouri (fighting major) 17:20; Groenestege, Missouri (unsportsmanlike conduct) 17:20; McAllister, Wichita (fighting major), 17:20; McAllister, Wichita (fighting instigator misconduct), 17:20; McAllister, Wichita (fighting instigator), 17:20.
Second period—3. Missouri, Sirota (Davis, Hinz), 11:39 (sh). 4. Wichita, Hanson (Deleurme), 13:55. Penalties— Lewis, Missouri (fighting major) 5:15; Kovalcik, Missouri (fighting major) 5:15; Woll, Wichita (slashing) 6:38; Campbell, Wichita (slashing) 7:45; Tyler, Missouri (holding) 10:06); Watson, Missouri (holding) 15:35.
Third period—5, Missouri, Hinz (Burgoyne, Groenestege), 4:19 (pp). Penalties— Sellan, Missouri (hooking) 1:07; Ofukany, Wichita (high sticking double minor) 3:05; Detulleo, Wichita (slashing) 4:44; Campbell, Wichita (roughing) 8:53; Lewis, Missouri (slashing) 11:11.
Shots—Wichita 6-10-10—26. Missouri 7-16-17—40. Power plays— Wichita 0 of 5; Missouri 2 of 8. Goalies— Wichita, Campbell (40 shots-36 saves). Missouri, Groenestege (26-25). A— 5,728. T—2:22.