Bouchard enjoys 'rebirth'

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:42 PM ET

ST. PAUL — Admittedly, there might have been a few times over the last 14 months when the thought crept into his cloudy head he may never play hockey again.

But while trying to rid himself of the post-concussion symptoms that plagued him for more than a year, Minnesota Wild playmaker Pierre-Marc Bouchard did his best to stay positive.

He looked at success stories — such as fellow Quebec product Patrice Bergeron — who overcame a serious head injury and is back in the NHL contributing to the Boston Bruins offence.

“I talked to him a couple of times,” Bouchard said before Friday’s game against the Calgary Flames. “I saw he was able to go through it and now he’s back to where he was before.

“He’s playing some good hockey, so that’s what I was trying to look at.”

Teammate Brent Burns is another member of the concussion club who was able to return to form.

But Bouchard’s case was pretty severe.

A high check from New York Islanders forward Nate Thompson in March of 2009 put the Wild’s first-round pick (eighth overall) from 2002 on the shelf.

He tried to come back to start the 2009-10 season, but a knock on the chin during a scrum in his first exhibition game brought back the headaches and pressure.

They thought initially it might have been a touch of the flu, so he suited up for the last pre-season game and season-opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Then he sat for 104 games, more than a full year on the sidelines. The pressure in his head didn’t really subside until just a couple of weeks ago, and Bouchard made his long-awaited return this week against the Phoenix Coyotes.

“It just felt like my first NHL game all over again. It was just a great feeling,” said the talented 26-year-old, who’s generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 173 lb.

“It was a big step for me to get that first game back. No soreness, no symptoms. Just a little tired.”

Understandable having not played a game in so long.

But being a little tired is a whole lot better than feeling foggy.

“It was really hard. That was my first time that I get hurt this way. I don’t wish it on anybody,” said Bouchard, who still goes through checkups after games and practices to monitor his health.” You’re just living in a grey area, you don’t know how much time it’s gonna take to recover.

“I got good support from my family, girlfriend and friends. Even here with the team, starting with the GM to the coaching staff and teammates, they didn’t put any pressure on me, so it helped a lot.”

He’s hoping his new helmet and mouthguard will keep his noggin’ safer now that he’s set for regular action.

The M11 helmet — designed by Mark Messier — didn’t take any major blows in his debut, but tested well.

“Yeah, a little bit. A couple of hits,” Bouchard said with a smile — one that won’t soon be wiped off his face.

“The M11, first of all it’s comfy, so that’s good.”

Almost as good as seeing a young player overcome a frightening injury and just being able to strap on a helmet again.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/MacfarlaneSteve


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