CALGARY- The first player on the ice for this St. Louis Blues' practice wears a red jersey. He skates in non-contact drills – hence the red warning - and jokes with his teammates then stays out long after most have left the ice.
When he finally returns to the dressing room, he apologizes for being so out of breath.
"I'm tired," David Perron admitted. "But I'm feeling better."
It's been almost a year since Perron last played in the NHL and, as he sheds his equipment and leans back in his stall, his return to the lineup has no definitive date. Just being back with his teammates and practicing again has been a significant breakthrough, one that the 23-year-old Perron is trying to enjoy without getting too far ahead of things.
It's something Perron can't afford to do as he continues his battle with post-concussion symptoms.
"It's good to be here, to be around the guys and do normal things – the pre-game skate, the pre-game meal, taking a nap, following the game at night," said Perron. "That's what I was missing. The important thing is I feel good enough to increase my workouts."
Perron was off to scorching start last season, scoring five times in six games when it came to a crashing end on Nov. 4. Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks, skating out of the penalty box, rammed Perron's head with a shoulder and left him sprawled on the ice. Thornton was tossed by the officials (he received a two-game suspension from the league) while Perron returned to finish the game.
Two days later, the Sherbrooke, Que., native began feeling dizzy. He had headaches, couldn't watch television, couldn't drive his car without feeling off. Doctors told him he'd suffered a concussion. He had no idea he'd be out this long.
"What's it been like?" Perron is asked. "It's tough to explain, mentally tough. I don't know where to start. Unless you have it, it's hard to understand."
Perron has spoken to several NHL players who have suffered concussions, such as Marc Savard and Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins and current St. Louis teammate Andy McDonald. The Blues recently lost McDonald to a concussion; his second in two years. Perron noted his medical visits and CT scans of late have been encouraging. But as for hearing anything from Thronton, the man who ended his season, Perron said his agent received a text message from Thoronton's agent, his brother John, asking how Perron was doing. Other than that, there has been nothing.
"I want to be patient," Perron said of his injury. "You see (Peter) Mueller (of the Colorado Avalanche); he came back too soon and was out again. You've got to feel good for awhile. Look at (Sidney) Crosby. Look at how he's taken care of his situation. It's perfect. He's got 15 years ahead of him. He's been out months and he's still not back because he doesn't feel right.
"I'm hoping to continue to skate and see what happens. I'll be patient."
Perron practiced by himself earlier this month for a few days before skating with the team. This is his first road trip with the Blues, who played the Flames on Friday and will face the Oilers in Edmonton on Sunday. As Blues' general manager John Davidson explained it, Perron's recovery is "inch by inch by inch." What happens next remains an unknown, but as long as he's making those little gains, Perron is okay with it.
"When more guys get concussions, they realize how hard this is," he noted. "I feel I'm coming along."