Ron Wilson does not have the reputation of being a touchy-feely coach, but he was sufficiently worried about Mike Van Ryn yesterday that he took the veteran defenceman aside for a morale-boosting chat.
"There's a lot of stress on him, and I told him: 'Just relax and rest and when you're ready, you're ready.'
"He can't speed the process up," Wilson said.
The day before (Monday) was one of the worse days of Van Ryn's NHL career -- almost as bad as when Montreal forward Tom Kostopoulos face-planted him into the boards on Nov. 8 at the Air Canada Centre. That savage hit from behind resulted in a number of injuries, including the first of two concussions this season for Van Ryn.
But taking part in the team's morning skate on Monday after missing the previous 14 games and fully expecting to play that night against the Carolina, only to be told that he failed a baseline test, was almost too much for the rock-steady defenceman to endure. All of which prompted the Wilson chat.
"It was tough to swallow," Van Ryn said of his failing the baseline test on Monday afternoon between the morning skate and the Carolina game. "I talked to (Wilson) about just trying to keep a positive mind frame and trying to stay upbeat. The guys in here don't want to see me moping around. It's tough (to stay positive), but I'll just keep working on it."
Van Ryn, 29, actually is feeling a lot better since suffering his second concussion in Boston on Dec. 18. In fact, he practised yesterday, but will not be allowed to play in tonight's game against the red-hot Boston Bruins (33-8-5) at the ACC, and will have to undergo a second baseline test on Sunday to determine if he'll be ready for the Leafs' first game after this weekend's all-star break, on Jan. 27 in Minnesota. The free-falling Leafs really could use the puck-moving defenceman. The blue and white have lost two in a row, six of their past seven, and have suffered back-to-back shutout losses at home.
"That's the tough part mentally as a player, when you think you can help and you want to be out there," Van Ryn said.
For his part, Wilson is obviously eager to get Van Ryn into the lineup, but stressed that the last thing he would ever do is put any pressure on the defenceman to come back prematurely. And that's why the coach is thankful for the baseline tests. In his time as a player, back in the 1970s, Wilson saw too many players return too early from concussions and pay the price down the road.
"We were encouraged to get right back on the ice (after a concussion)," said Wilson, who had suffered a number of concussions as a player. "And if you didn't feel right, you got your manhood (questioned). And I think later on down the line some guys have paid a price for that.
"No one knew about concussions then. You got knocked out, if you could stand up, you kept on playing," Wilson said. "You didn't want to come out -- in my case -- you're afraid if you came out, you might not go back in. My uncle (Johnny Wilson) was the NHL Ironman in the '50s, and he said he played with a ton of injuries and he was afraid -- with his role being a third-liner -- that if he took himself out, somebody else was going to steal his job."
All Van Ryn can do now is practise, wait, and when he does return, add a safer helmet, a mouth guard and a visor to his equipment.
"I kind of feel silly. It's only taken me about a week to get used to the visor (in practice)," he said.