Steen's career year hits bump

Blues forward Alexander Steen warms up prior to facing the Avalanche at the Pepsi Center in Denver,...

Blues forward Alexander Steen warms up prior to facing the Avalanche at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Col., Dec. 21, 2011. (DOUG PENSINGER/Getty Images/AFP)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:36 PM ET

WINNIPEG - He wasn’t felled by one of those nefarious hits that cause NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan to work overtime, and he doesn’t grab headlines the way Sidney Crosby does.

But the concussion Winnipegger Alex Steen suffered in an NHL game last month is every bit as real.

Friday marks one month since Steen, 27, last played for the St. Louis Blues, a confounding layoff that’s derailed what was shaping up to be the most exhilarating of his seven NHL seasons.

“It’s my first time going through this,” Steen, in Winnipeg for the all-star break, said, Thursday. “I didn’t know what to expect, what it’s all about. And because my symptoms were so minor and not aggressive, it’s tougher to analyze.”

Steen’s concussion came when he was hit, Boxing Day, against Dallas. Not recognizing the symptoms, he played against Detroit the next day.

“I thought it was just going to go away,” he said. “It didn’t. It kind of lingered. I told the trainers after a while. And they pulled me out.”

Since then it’s been one week after another of painfully slow progress.

“Lights would bother me, and noise,” Steen said. “It’s hard as an athlete to take a step back and not push yourself through stuff. Broken bones and stuff, you wait until they’re almost healed and then you can start pushing yourself. This has been the complete opposite.”

Just before the break, Steen was on the verge of returning, but still didn’t feel right.

At least Steen hasn’t felt alone.

Teammates Andy McDonald, limited to three games due to a concussion this season, Scott Nichol and Jason Arnott have all been through it, and able to help out.

Making the inactivity easier: watching his Blues continue the red-hot play that’s seen them challenge Detroit and the New York Rangers for first, overall.

Of all the teams that changed head coaches in the first half of the season, nobody’s cashed in like St. Louis, whose record since Ken Hitchcock took over from Davis Payne in early November is 23-6-7.

Needless to say, Steen is sold on Hitchcock — and vice versa, it seemed, as the son of former Jets star Thomas Steen moved up from the second to the first line.

“He’s got a sense of humour to him,” is how Steen described his coach. “He’s very strict and honest with his guys. Fair. Very prepared and experienced. He knows the message he wants to get across. He kind of coaches four, five, six, seven guys, and if they buy into the concept it just spreads through the team.”

Steen was one of the chosen leaders, and he seemed to feed off it.

His 13 goals in 36 games had him on pace for a career-high 30.

He still leads the Blues with a plus-20 rating.

“It was really good this year,” Steen said. “Playing a lot with (David) Backes and (T.J.) Oshie... we were playing heavy minutes. It was a lot of fun. And then this happened. It’s been a little bit of a downer.”

It hasn’t dampened Steen’s enthusiasm for his team, though.

He sees the Blues as a tight-knit squad that realizes it’s pretty damn good, and is feeding off the energy in the city.

“If you feel the vibe in our room, and how St. Louis as a city is right now, how we’re buzzing, especially after the Cardinals won, too. A lot of that shifted over to us, a lot of the excitement and the attention.”

We can relate to that a bit, here. It seems excitement is rubbing off between the Jets and Bombers, too.

You can bet Steen has Feb. 25, the Blues’ lone visit to his hometown, circled on his calendar.

He has one minor regret, though.

“I wished we’d play the game in that old arena,” he said, laughing, remembering his second home as a kid.

At this point, playing a game in any arena would do.


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