TORONTO - After Colton Orr had his marbles scrambled eight months ago, some critics would suggest he may have lost them permanently by returning to the NHL.
Back on Jan. 20, Orr took a blow to the side of the face during a scrap with Anaheim Ducks’ heavyweight George Parros and cracked his head on the ice, suffering a concussion in the process that would end his 2010-11 season in a woozy haze.
Now, some 238 days later, there was Orr, sitting in front of a gaggle of microphones, television cameras and notepads, telling reporters at the Mastercard Centre on Friday that he was eagerly ready to resume his job as the Maple Leafs resident policeman, carefully guarding against any opponents who attempt to take liberties against Toronto’s top-end skilled players.
Before questioning his sanity at wanting to come back from such a scary incident, understand that Colton Orr is well aware of the risks involved.
Colton Orr knows how serious the after-effects of concussions can be, especially after conferring with former player Keith Primeau whose career was cut short by absorbing too many blows to the head.
Colton Orr knows that there are those who would like to abolish fisticuffs from the game, thereby making his job on the ice extinct.
And Colton Orr knows that, given the tragic deaths of fellow tough guys Rick Rypien, Derek Boogaard and Wade Belak over the summer, there have been, rightly or wrongly, links made between their roles as enforcers and their alleged states of depression.
Colton Orr knows all that.
And yet, after receiving medical clearance to play again, Colton Orr plans to do exactly that.
He always did.
Never once, during the weeks when tests continued to show the residue of his concussion, did he question the nature of his role as an enforcer. Or his future in the NHL.
No matter how much speculation swirled in public about a potential career-threatening injury, Colton Orr stayed the course, vowing to return.
So far, so good.
“My symptoms? I was a rare case, a lot of my stuff showed up on MRI, cognitive tests, where I didn’t show the results like they should be. I never had that in my head (that I couldn’t play again), I’ve always had in my mind that I was playing, that I’d come back and help the team.
“Any time you have (a concussion) I think we’re always concerned. It’s been a tough job so there’s always concern.
“But it’s my job. It’s the choice I’ve made. I love being in the NHL and standing up for my teammates. I went through a lot of testing, I had the best doctors and great support from the team. I’m ready to play, ready to drop the gloves or whatever it takes to do my job.”
There’s the rub.
As Orr said, it’s his “choice.”
Maybe the anti-fighting fraternity should remember that point when they claim that the trepidation in an enforcer’s mind at having to go fist city with another 250-pound behemoth in the next game is reason enough to legislate scraps out of the pro game.
If an enforcer can not handle the mental strain that goes along with that role, why not just hang up the blades? If the money is too lucrative to walk away from, well, that risk-reward scenario should be a matter of personal choice.
During his chats with Primeau, Orr was warned of the lasting implications concussions can have on a player’s life long after he has retired. Indeed, Orr’s education on any and all things concussion-related was thorough.
“He was very upbeat when I talked to him and felt as though he was getting better, but I felt he was still struggling,” Primeau told the Toronto Sun’s Rob Longley two weeks ago. “That becomes his inner dilemma, his personal choice. I’m sure he understands the severity of his decision.”
His “personal choice.”
There’s that phrase again.
As for making a connection between the deaths of Boogaard, Belak and Rypien and their roles as enforcers, former NHL pugilists Tie Domi and Stu (The Grim Reaper) Grimson each told the Toronto Sun during the weekend of Belak’s funeral in Nashville that such comparisons were ludicrious. Both men said the three tragic passings were individual cases that, in the end, were unrelated to each other.
“There’s always speculation about fighting but that’s out of my control,” Orr said. “I just go out and do my job.” He did offer some advice for enforcers who might be feeling the strain of the job, a scenario that could lead to depression. “For young guys there is support, older guys who you can talk to,” he said. “They’ll help you out.”
As Orr, 29, was finishing up his press conference, Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, waiting to take his teammate’s spot up on the podium, was asked if fighting — and, for that matter, enforcers like Orr — still had a place in the NHL.
“Of course. It’s part of the game,” Phaneuf said.
A game the medically-cleared Colton Orr can’t wait to participate in, no matter what anyone else thinks.
In the end, it’s his choice, isn’t it?