Keith Ballard’s concussion occurred on two light bodychecks, when the Vancouver Canucks defenceman played 24 shifts and 16:08 against the Colorado Avalanche on the road Feb. 4. Three nights later - as Ballard began to realize something was definitely wrong- he played another 23 shifts, for 16:12 on the ice.
Ballard was then ensnared in the hall-of-mirrors of a nasty concussion. Headaches, dizziness, sleeping 16 hours a day. A light workout would make him sick. By the end of February, after setbacks, Ballard was forced to go still.
“It took a while, completely shutting down, to get symptom free, and then I slowly built up from there,” said Ballard after a morning skate on Monday.
All concussions are different, and while Ballard isn’t ready to play for the Canucks Monday night against the visiting Los Angeles Kings, he has been back on the ice for a week, and is now cleared for light contact. Ballard’s experience, and that of many other National Hockey League players, could be a dark foreshadow of what Daniel Sedin grapples.
On Monday after practice, the Canucks for the first time announced that Sedin was indeed concussed when he was elbowed in the head by Duncan Keith last Wednesday against Chicago. The stress of the situation was on display in Vancouver as coach Alain Vigneault issued a terse answer to a follow-up question about Sedin’s prospects for recovery.
“I’m not going to address this every day. He’s got a concussion, and if we have something more to say, we’ll say it.”
Vigneault then cut off another reporter’s question about the Canucks’ last homestand, a weak 3-4 showing. Vigneault said the team had put it behind them, and was focused on the roll of a two-game winning streak coming off the road. Another reporter half-joked that Vigneault was being grumpy.
“Not grumpy, I’m just trying to be positive, and look at the good stuff.”
Well, on the ledger of good stuff, the Canucks are in second place in the Western Conference, a position they are almost guaranteed hold, even if they lose their last seven games. And Monday night, against L.A., a typical scenario unfolds: The Kings, in eighth in the West, tied with two other teams at 86 points, badly needs the win. Vancouver could still win the Presidents’ Trophy but a victory Monday is hardly essential, when minds have already moved to April, and beyond, from March.
Even as Vigneault tried to stay positive, his agitation was clear. He is without his best goal scorer, who isn’t well enough to even skate with the team in practice. Sedin is following concussion protocol, which indicates he won’t be back on the ice until seven days pass without symptoms of a concussion.
Asked about Ballard’s prospects, Vigneault said, “Aw, geez, I don’t know,” adding that the team and the player are following the established medical protocol. How Ballard deals with contact will be important.
“How he will react in the next couple days is anyone’s guess,” said Vigneault.
Ballard is a 29-year-old who was drafted in the first round, 11th overall, by Buffalo in 2002.
He came to Vancouver in a trade in June, 2010, and has underperformed. He earns $4.2-million and last season - when he had his first concussion - he had seven points in 65 games. In last spring’s playoffs, he played 10 games, had zero points, and was -4.
This year, he has seven points in 47 games. Ballard’s best year was as a rookie, in 2005-06, when he had 39 points in a full 82 games for the Phoenix Coyotes.
Ballard appeared sharp on the ice at Rogers Arena Monday, seemingly ready to go. He was warmly welcomed back by teammates. Goalie Roberto Luongo playfully tapped Ballard with his goalie stick, and fellow defenceman Kevin Bieksa had him in a brotherly headlock for a moment, smiles all round.
Last season, in October, 2010, Ballard was concussed for the first time. He missed five games. This time, he’s missed 23.
“It’s all different,” said Ballard. “I know last year I had symptoms for a few days and started to feel better and I progressed from there. This year was a lot different.”
Details about Daniel Sedin were scarce. Even twin brother, and team captain, Henrik, was mostly mum. Henrik had previously provided fragments of information, and commented strongly about the need for the NHL to punish brutal hits more notably during games.
In the absence of any medical information - with the playoffs a bit more than two weeks away - on a grey, drizzly early-spring day in Vancouver - Henrik said Daniel is in good spirits.
“His spirits are always good,” said Henrik. “He’s the most positive person you can meet. He thinks it’s always sunny in Vancouver. That’s the kind of guy he is.”