Patrice Bergeron is resting, recovering from another hit to the head, and the Bruins remain hopeful that their star center will rejoin them before the conclusion of this shrink-wrapped 2012-13 season.
Based on how disheveled their game turned immediately upon his exiting the lineup midway through Tuesday’s victory over Ottawa, the Bruins need Bergeron back as soon as possible, his value to the club more essential than any player acquired by any club, including Boston, at last week’s trade deadline.
The facts here are painful, agonizing. Bergeron’s concussion Tuesday, on what appeared to be a routine collision with Ottawa forward Colin Greening, is his third since the major one he sustained in October 2007. He was examined Friday by Dr. Robert Cantu, the Concord-based neurologist/concussion expert, and details of that meeting obviously won’t be shared with the media any time soon. Remember, it took some 24 hours for the Bruins to confirm that Bergeron was concussed.
Since sustaining that devastating hit in October of ’07, Bergeron has played in 387 games with the Bruins (regular season and playoffs) and seven more with Canada’s gold-medal-winning Olympic team. Total: 394 games. Divide that sum by three concussions, and the average is one brain injury about every 131 games.
One doesn’t have to be a leading neurologist to understand the hard facts facing the 27-year-old center. If he were a high-schooler, pondering his future of academics, athletics, and quality of life after hockey, by now he would have been given the heartbreaking advice, be it from doctor or parent or both, that it was time to walk away from the game. There are only so many (number unknown) knocks to the head one can take, and continuing CTE research — much of it carried out through Boston University in partnership with the VA Hospital in Bedford — makes it increasingly clear that continued concussive and subconcussive hits can lead to varying degrees of cognitive impairment as victims age. The damage sometimes begins to reveal itself within only a few years after the athlete stops playing.
Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli Wednesday said Bergeron suffered a “moderate’’ concussion. We’ve seen Bergeron take much bigger licks, the biggest of all delivered Oct. 27, 2007, when he was knocked cold on his feet by a Randy Jones slam into the rear boards. Bergeron was strapped to a stabilizing board, carried off the ice, and missed the remainder of the season. It was days before he was able to walk in the sunlight, weeks before he could drive a car.
In the spring of 2008, I chatted with Bergeron’s father outside Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington. Inside the rink, his son worked doggedly in the hope of rejoining the club for the playoffs. Outside the rink, the senior Bergeron paced and fretted, mostly in silence. Parents are parents. They look in their kids’ eyes and wish them, above all, the wealth of health. The rest is, well, just the rest. Had Gerard Bergeron’s son packed up for good that day, the exhale from his old man would have sent hurricane-force winds from Wilmington all the way to his hometown Quebec City.
The following year, Bergeron collided in open ice with then-Carolina defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, leading to another stay on the sidelines, although Bergeron played a total 64 of 82 games that year, concussion and other injuries included. The next smack came in the clinching game of the 2011 playoff sweep over the Flyers, Bergeron drilled in a straight-on collision with top Flyers forward Claude Giroux. He missed the first two games of the next series against Tampa and gained strength and effectiveness through the remainder of the Cup-winning run.
And now the Greening shot. Hustling back toward his own net (no surprise), Bergeron reached for the puck near the top of the crease, where he collided with the 6-foot-3-inch, 212-pound Greening. Replays showed the contact to be more of a shove than a stiff, targeted check. But it caught Bergeron below the left ear, near the neck line, and knocked him to the ice. After a few moments, clearly dazed and with one gloved hand capped atop his helmet, he straightened up and made his way directly to the dressing room. Done for the night. His frustration was apparent. No telling when, or if, we next will see him in uniform.
Without him in the lineup, the Bruins are short their best checking forward, their best faceoff man, one of their leading point producers and penalty killers. Other than that, oh, no big deal. Let the record show the Bruins gave up 47 shots to Ottawa by the time the night was over, then yielded another 40 to the Devils two nights later. Harder to find a better definition of the term “glue guy.”
The only reason Bergeron is not classified a superstar is because he is not a prolific scorer, but that’s a product of a number of factors. To wit: his sometimes lack of inclination to shoot or force scoring opportunities; his dogged, Selke-winning detail to two-way play (witness his actions leading to concussion No. 4); coach Claude Julien’s overall defensive game plan, which may not discourage scoring but certainly doesn’t make things easy.
All we know now is that the Bruins will treat Bergeron with great, delicate care. He is very fortunate that Chiarelli, Julien, and Co. take injuries seriously, especially brain injuries. Based on the standings and the injury, it’s a fair bet, even if Bergeron says he feels 100 percent very soon, he would not be placed back in the lineup until the very end of the month.
Again, three concussions over 394 games, in a span of 54 months. For Bergeron, the days now aren’t about wins and losses. They are about healing, feeling better, and pondering the price of continuing his career.
Carlyle’s mind is made up
Not every organization is as, shall we say, enlightened as the Bruins on the subject of brain injuries. The wires were alive Saturday with comments on the subject by Leafs coach Randy Carlyle, in the wake of Blue and White forward Joffrey Lupul making his way on wobbly legs to the Toronto bench Thursday night after taking a big smack to the noggin vs. the Flyers.
Carlyle finds it as hard to utter the word “concussion’’ as Speaker of the House John Boehner finds it to say “compromise.”
“That’s a bad word,’’ Carlyle said when asked if Lupul were concussed, as reported by sportsnet.ca’s Michael Grange. “We don’t use that word until we’re 100 percent sure of any of the situations. The term ‘concussion’ in today’s world, sporting world, you want to be 100 percent sure before you start using that word.’’
Carlyle then went on to offer some homespun theories on concussions, in part hypothesizing that helmets might actually increase the chance of sustaining a brain injury. The theory: the helmet retains heat, promoting a player’s brain to swell, thus making for a tighter fit for the brain inside the skull, and . . . well . . . you know.
“Everyone sweats a lot more, the brain swells,’’ offered Carlyle, who coached the Ducks to a Cup in 2007. “The brain is closer to the skull. Think about it. Does it make sense? Common sense? I don’t know if it’s true, but that would be my theory. Heat expands and cold contracts. The brain is like a muscle, it’s pumping, it swells, it’s a lot closer to the outside of the skull.’’
Grange offered Carlyle’s theory to Dr. Charles Tator, project director of the Krembil Neuroscience Centre at Toronto Western Hospital. Tator, an expert on sports-related concussions, wasn’t buying the heat/head/concussion theory.
“Scientifically, it is unsound to think that the temperature underneath the head and the helmet is going to reflect the temperature of the brain,’’ noted Tator. “There are too many layers of tissues in between. The circulation of the blood and other factors that dissipate temperature would prevent any outside change of temperature of a few degrees from getting into the brain.
“The theory doesn’t hold water — or you could say that the theory doesn’t hold brain — scientifically. And I don’t think there’s any evidence that exercise makes the brain swell. I have not seen that.’’
MacDermid right at home
Lane MacDermid, dished to the Stars in the swap that brought Jaromir Jagr to the Bruins last week, now has two career goals — both scored in his new Dallas duds. MacDermid, 23, was chosen 112th overall in the 2009 draft (the same year Jordan Caron was picked at No. 25), and received only limited looks here, sized up as a third- or fourth-liner. He scored on his one shot Wednesday in a 5-2 loss at Anaheim, and followed with another goal on two shots Friday in a 3-1 win over the Ducks, again at Anaheim. Two goals. Two games. File under: hidden gem.
Nice debut by Ryane Clowe, going 2-1—3 in his first game with the Rangers after getting shipped to Broadway by the Sharks. Of all the bodies that moved before Thursday’s trade deadline, the gritty Clowe could provide the most pop, when factoring potential points and overall presence. His issue, in part why he was dealt, will be his price. His expiring deal called for $4 million this year. He’ll be 31 to start 2013-14 and his asking price could be in the three-year/$15 million neighborhood. Not ridiculous money by today’s standards, but with the cap rolling back and many clubs already with tight payrolls, he may have to sacrifice something at the pay window if he wants to remain with a valid Cup contender.
Dealing with it
Refreshingly candid, though ironic, press conference Thursday by Roberto Luongo after the Canucks failed to move him at the trade deadline. “My contract [expletive] — that’s what’s the problem,’’ said an irked Luongo, whose deal still calls him to rake in $40 million over the next 10 seasons. “I’d scrap it if I could, right now.’’ The Leafs would have taken him on, willing to yield 26-year-old ’tender Ben Scrivens and a couple of picks to the Canucks. The hitch: Leafs boss Dave Nonis, the man who originally brought Luongo to Vancouver, wanted Canucks boss Mike Gillis, the former Bruins forward, to pay a piece of that $40 million balance (a practice allowed by the new CBA). Truth is, no one’s taking Luongo unless the Canucks underwrite some of the deal or take back a sizable chunk of salary in a player or players. Meanwhile, Luongo stays put, most likely to watch ex-Boston College Eagle Cory Schneider carry 90 percent of the load.
The Leafs could have made a swap for aged Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, but the 36-year-old Finn made it clear he wasn’t interested in a late-in-life change of gears. His deal drops to a paltry $1.5 million next season, which in itself could lead him to retire . . . After watching GM Jay Feaster move out big guns Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester, Flames owner Murray Edwards still wants his club in the playoffs next year (for the first time since 2009). “Those are my marching orders,’’ noted Feaster. To which TV commentator Ray Ferraro added, “I don’t want to be in that march.’’ . . . The Wild should be a formidable offensive force with quick-shooting Jason Pominville added from the Sabres, with approximately $900,000 of his salary to be covered by Buffalo owner Terry Pegula. The ex-Sabres captain is on the books through next season at a $5.5 million cap hit . . . With Carl Soderberg’s club, Linkoping, eliminated from the playoffs in Sweden, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli can step up efforts to bring the big pivot here before the playoffs (ideally on a two- or three-year deal). Soderberg first must negotiate a price to get out of his Linkoping deal. Then he needs to cut a deal with Chiarelli. Then there’s Team Sweden, which may/may not want the 27-year-old to play in this year’s World Championships (May 3-19 in Sweden and Finland) . . . The NHL’s original 82-game season for 2012-13 would have wrapped up Friday. Instead, the Bruins will fly to Carolina to face the Hurricanes Saturday night . . . Congrats to Arthur Katz, in this his 40th season working Bruins games on Causeway Street. Faithful, diligent stats man, and one of the few remaining who worked both the old building and the new building.