Put a lid on it: Kings’ Stephenson

CRASH CAMERON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:59 PM ET

He can understand what the best player in hockey is going through.

And, Colton Stephenson is offering a solution for what has been ailing players for years now and Sidney Crosby at the moment.

Or, at least, Stephenson can offer what has so far been his solution to the single-most important issue in hockey these days, on and off the ice.

It's because the Edmonton Oil Kings forward has learned about concussions the hard way.

"I think being able to wear a helmet that fits you best," is his offer.

"The ones they wear now just didn't fit me well and, switching, I can feel the difference just skating around - no pain anywhere."

In number of games played Stephenson is just barely disqualified as a rookie in the WHL. Yet he is a 19-year-old in his third year with the Oil Kings.

For parts of one year and all of another - in a junior career that is finite to begin with - the Saskatoon-born Stephenson has had to sit and watch.

"It was ..." he said, pausing, "It was hard.

"I talked to Greener and he said, "Take another year off and just make sure all the symptoms are gone and everything's good," he said of the advice he got from Oil Kings GM Bob Green before last season.

Stephenson had another scare: He took a hit during this pre-season.

"Definitely, I thought that was it.

"I had taken that one year off came back and I thought I'd get the season in.

"The main part was getting rid of the symptoms," he said of making a return.

"Once the symptoms went away I started working out slowly, came back and got a new helmet fits me better, and came back in better shape than I've ever been."

But there was a hit that stung Stephenson more than any he was on the end of.

Being on the short end a fight on Dec. 15 proved too much for Jesse Pearson. The 19-year-old defenceman was sent home to Winnipeg, out for the season and very possibly out of hockey, period.

Pearson's junior journey had been almost parallel to Stephenson's.

"Since both of our first years, we had head injuries and hung out all the time. And when I saw him go down this year É it was hard for me to watch," said Stephenson.

"He's probably my best friend on the team. To see him go home, it really hurt. And it showed how lucky I am to not be in that position."

Stephenson doesn't share a position with his friend, but he also shares a hockey trait.

While he doesn't play with the often reckless abandon Pearson did, when Stephenson's game is on, it's a mix of speed with bang-and-crash as a shut-down type forward who can chip in with offence.

Understandably, it was a tentative return to the ice this year.

"At first, I was," agreed Stephenson.

"I thought maybe if I don't play that style of game - and some even said I shouldn't play that style of game anymore, just to be sure.

"But, that's the type of game that got me here.

"After Christmas, I just talked to (assistant coach Steve Hamilton) and he said, "Just go have fun, don't be afraid to make a mistake.

"And that's made a world of difference.

"Because I thought, if I want to play hockey, I'm going to play it that way.

"So, if I'm going to get injured, I'm going to get injured and that's where the cards fall."

On the ice, Stephenson's cards began to align. A couple of hot scoring stretches, even got him some shifts on an offensive line. But it didn't let it affect his work-ethic or the meat of his game.

"Now I'm contributing and not hoping that something bad doesn't happen while I'm out there ... doing something positive rather than something negative."

Not bad for a near-rookie.

"But I don't think anyone around here thinks I'm a rookie - I've been hanging around too long!"

david.cameron@sunmedia.ca


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