The road to recovery

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

LONDON -- Simon Gagne and Patrice Bergeron stood on the ice at a Quebec City-area arena and looked at each other, a pair of concussion victims seeking to rebound from their individually bruised brains.

In preparation for the coming season, the two stars joined other NHLers from the region for regular skates last month, a group that included Edmonton Oilers goalie Mathieu Garon and Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Tanguay.

For the majority of guys out on the ice, this was about shedding the off-season flab collected from days of beach-front barbeques and canned campfire beverages.

But for Gagne and Bergeron, this was about much more.

This was about scratching and clawing to regain the hockey careers they love.

And almost lost.

"We'd just see each other and ask: "How are you feeling?" Gagne said yesterday in London, where his Philadelphia Flyers beat the New York Islanders 4-0 in exhibition play last night. "That's it."

What? No digging into each other's rehab regimens? No exchanging of war stories concerning the pain, the sweat and the tears it took for both to recover from their devastating ailments?

"We didn't go into detail," Gagne said. "We were both trying to forget about it, trying to turn the page.

"We have been asked so much about it that it will be nice when the questions stop. Both of us cannot wait until things go well."

For Bergeron, they already have. At least early on in the pre-season, anyway.

About 11 months after suffering a Grade 3 concussion from a hit-from-behind by the Flyers' Randy Jones, the Boston Bruins forward returned to action with flair, registering four points in an exhibition game against the Canadiens earlier this week.

While Gagne was not able to see the game himself, his father, Pierre, did.

"My dad watched the first period and said (Patrice) got better as the game went on," Gagne said. "It was a good start for him."

Now it's Gagne's turn.

Having suffered concussions on three separate occasions last season, the Flyers sniper hopes to make his exhibition debut tomorrow when the Flyers host the Carolina Hurricanes.

Gagne admits he will have butterflies. Once the puck drops, those likely will go away. Then it will be time for him to go out and test himself, preferably courtesy of a big hit.

That's right. A big hit. Like the one administered by the Florida Panthers' Jay Bouwmeester last Oct. 24 that left Gagne with his bell rung, a condition that would recur two more times over the course of the season.

"I'm confident everything will be okay," Gagne said. "But until I get hit, well ..."

Indeed, that will be the litmus test.

Keep in mind that the Flyers history is plagued with horror tales involving concussions of yesteryear.

Early in his NHL career, Gagne, 28, witnessed the debilitating effects a series of blows to the noggin had on Eric Lindros. Not long afterward, he watched another Flyer teammate, Keith Primeau, play concussed through the 2004 playoffs, a decision that eventually caused Primeau's playing days to end two years later.

As Gagne fought through his own personal demons last season, Primeau gave him some advice: Don't rush back. Gagne heeded those words, opting to shut himself down in February in order to minimize the risks involved.

"I think I made the right decision not to come back at the end of last season," Gagne said. "Hopefully it will pay dividends.

"My condition was never as (severe) as (Bergeron's). If you look at Patrice, there were times he couldn't walk two or three minutes before he had to go back to bed. For me, I wasn't tired. I could function away from the rink. Unfortunately, my headache would not go away."

The pain in his brain is gone now, thankfully.

And, come Feb. 4 when the Bruins and Flyers meet for the first time this season, Bergeron and Gagne hope all those questions about their respective conditions will be gone, too.


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