“We strongly disagree with the two-game suspension. It was clearly not a predatory-type hit with an intent to injure, shown by the fact the player returned to the ice for his next shift so it is clear the contact to the head was minimal.”
San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson
At the time, it didn’t seem like a big deal. About five minutes into the second period of a San Jose-St. Louis game last November, Joe Thornton left the penalty box and laid out David Perron with a shoulder to the head. Perron stayed down for about a minute as St. Louis trainer Ray Barile attended to him. He got up, returned to the bench and finished the game, netting a goal later that same period. In a post-game interview he was asked if he was feeling any residual effects from the hit, and insisted he felt fine. Twice. Now over a year and 97 missed games later, he’s finally back.
Doug Wilson’s statement about the intent of the hit is one thing. Certainly that’s debatable, and only Joe Thornton knows the truth. Wilson’s assertion that Perron’s immediate return to the ice was a sign of minimal head contact is another thing entirely (ie. ridiculous). If we’ve learned nothing else over the last few seasons with the increased awareness around concussions, it’s that they’re inconsistent and sneaky. A crushing hit may be a non-issue, and “incidental contact” can result in multiple games lost.
In Perron’s case, he felt fine the night of the hit but began having issues with headaches and dizziness the next day. He tried to skate in practice before the next game and ended up a scratch. He missed one game, then two, then a few weeks, then on December 1st the Blues finally moved him to the IR, retroactive to the night of the injury. This despite the fact that at the end of November Perron had said he was starting to feel better (a statement he later attributed to inexperience with concussions, and not realizing that improvement didn’t mean resolution).
January 20th, Blues’ GM Doug Armstrong held a press conference to update Perron’s progress. Armstrong noted that he had passed the NHL’s baseline testing and was going to introduce light exercise into his routine. Perron himself said that there were studies indicating that light exercise was helpful in concussion recovery, and preliminary research out of SUNY Buffalo points in that direction. There is a well-studied stepwise approach to returning to play after a concussion (from the Zurich Consensus Report – guidelines established by a big group of super smart doctors and trainers that meet every few years), and Perron was hoping to progress to the second step at the end of January.
It’s reasonable to assume the light exercise didn’t go well, as Perron was in Vancouver in late February seeing chiropractor Donald Grant for lingering symptoms. On March 11th, the Blues announced that he was done for the year. April and May passed with word that Perron was still having symptoms, wasn’t working out, and wasn’t ready for NHL baseline testing needed to begin the process of training for the next season. July came and went with the news that the Blues were building a lineup that excluded Perron, and in August it was made clear he wouldn’t attend training camp nor start the 2011-2012 season.
A sliver of hope appeared in mid-August when Perron began light skating at home with his friends. A squeal of delight arose from Blues fans on September 26th when Perron and Armstrong held a press conference to say that he had passed his baseline testing and rejoined the team in St Louis. Doug Armstong also continued handling Perron’s situation with the class he’d shown in January’s press conference by once again requesting that the press respect Perron’s privacy, and keep in mind that the players the team wanted in the spotlight were the ones who were actually playing.
October 20th Perron skated with the team and said he felt good afterwards. Obviously he kept feeling good, and was cleared for contact November 18. The middle of last week there were whispers he might play soon, and on Thursday the Blues dropped the news that he’d been cleared to play by team doctors. David Perron made his season debut at Saturday’s home game against the Blackhawks, and ended up playing 19:05 – impressive minutes for someone who hasn’t played hockey in over a year. He also scored an insane goal from a terrible angle, earning himself a screaming ovation from the sold-out crowd at the Scottrade Center (and also from me, in my living room). The Blues ended up losing 5-2, but I’m not sure anyone really cared.
There are several lessons in excellent injury management that can be taken from Perron’s concussion. He was never pushed to return to the ice, and there wasn’t a media circus around him. The team was also very accommodating in making sure he had all the treatment he needed from a variety of specialists, to include Dr. Robert Cantu, CTE researcher and the current darling of neurosurgery and sports medicine. The fact that Perron was gone a year seems indicative of the trend toward teams taking concussions more seriously – Rushing back to action before a concussion is healed can lead to re-injury and an even longer convalescence.
It has to be pointed out here that Perron’s return to the ice the night of the hit should not be misconstrued as poor management on the part of the training staff – his symptoms didn’t manifest until the next day (remember, concussions are sneaky). It’s also worth noting that although the Blues had the tendency to provide very infrequent updates (which frustrated fans and media alike) the few statements that they did make were only when they had concrete information to report. Frequent statements with minimal content do nothing but lead to speculation (See: Crosby, Sidney).
Perron had said throughout his time on the IR that the hardest thing for him was staying away from the arena. He also said from the outset that he was going to get back on the ice, no matter what it took. It took 97 games, over a year, and a lot of therapy. Now he’s back, he’s pretty good at this whole hockey thing, and Blues fans are (rightly) beside themselves.
As for any hard feelings between Perron and Thornton, his last tweet before Saturday’s game seems to cover it nicely:
It’s great to see Perron’s concussion story end well. Hopefully the Blues will have Andy McDonald back soon (out since mid-October with a concussion) and the delighted screaming can continue in St. Louis. And also possibly in my living room.