David Backes, out of the Bruins’ lineup since taking yet another debilitating knock to the head in a Nov. 2 collision with Ottawa’s Scott Sabourin, returned to full practice for the first time Saturday and declared himself ready for active game duty.
“I’ve got a healthy squash,” Backes, sounding relieved, said early Saturday afternoon inside the Bruins’ workout facility in Brighton. “So that is a good sign for me.”
The 35-year-old Backes, not available for comment since departing the lineup a month earlier, would not confirm that he suffered a concussion from the mid-ice crash that knocked out the Ottawa winger cold on his feet and sent him crashing face-first on the ice.
Backes, however, said he was concerned enough about his symptoms to go outside the network of team doctors in mid-November and seek a second opinion on the state of his overall neurological well-being. He has sustained at least three concussions during his time with the Bruins and previously estimated he has suffered 10 or more over the length of his career — a number Backes said Saturday could be higher or lower, based on a number of diagnostic factors.
That overall history, and symptoms sustained from the Sabourin hit, sent Backes out of state (he would not divulge where) on Nov. 17 for a thorough neurological assessment.
“Part of my process the last month [has been] talking to more than one professional neurologist . . . ,” Backes said. “I don’t want to call them gurus, but the guys that are seen as the people on the front lines of concussions — especially in the sports-specific area. Having full workups done by them to say, ‘Am I damaged and broken and there’s a point where you should stop playing this game? Or can you tell me that I am healthy and my brain’s healthy and that I shouldn’t worry?’ ”
Satisfied with their answers, Backes last week resumed skating in practices, though while wearing a red (non-contact) sweater. Following the one contact workout, he said he figures he’ll be good to go Sunday night if coach Bruce Cassidy wants him to suit up against the Canadiens at the Garden.
“You know the short term and returning to play, there’s certainly a decision to me made,” said Backes, who clearly has thought extensively about what impact the cumulative hits ultimately could have on his quality of life. “I’ve got kids and I’m hoping to live another 50 years after I am done playing. So, that’s a concern as well. I’m human and all of us are, so those are thoughts and questions I wanted answered before I pulled my skates back on and put myself back in these games.
“I got all those answered with, truthfully, better answers than I thought I was going to get with the history that I have. Multiple neurologists have told me there’s no reason for me to be hesitant, to worry about more contact, more hits, because [they say] you’re doing fine. So from that [standpoint] I am excited to be back with a clean mind, not thinking that my next hit could be something that ends my career — and that has been something on my mind. Not to have that, I am hoping to be free and able to play a better game out there.”
Cassidy, his club on a six-game winning streak and ranked No. 1 in the overall league standings as of Saturday morning, noted that Backes “seems to be in a good place.”
“I’ve talked to Kim,” said Cassidy, referring to skating coach Kim Brandvold. “[Backes has] skated well. I think he wants to get back at it, obviously, and help the team win. So for me, that would be my comment . . . it sure seems like he’s in decent spirits.”
Backes, who took a knee and stared in silence for minutes as an unconscious Sabourin was tended to the night of the injury, said his own vision was rendered blurry from the blow. He also was emotionally shook over the sight of the fallen, unresponsive Sabourin. It reminded him of the season opener when Stars defenseman Roman Polak had to be stretchered off the ice in Dallas after missing a check on Chris Wagner and stumbling awkwardly into the boards.
“It was heavy,” said Backes, referring to his emotions when seeing Sabourin. “You’re all, in the end, kind of a fraternity of guys that are playing this sport, loving this sport. No one wants to see anybody injured . . . I saw him down there, and I saw blood coming from his mouth, his nose, his eye . . . and he wasn’t moving.”
Noting he has grown accustomed over the years to watching players get knocked out and ultimately awake in 15-20 seconds, Backes said he was alarmed because Sabourin remained unresponsive.
“It seemed to me like he was out for minutes,” recalled Backes. “I was really fearful that he was critically injured and needed significant help. Then he started moving, that subsided a little bit — but my vision also wasn’t great and I knew I was a little messed up from the contact as well. I needed to go take care of myself.”
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Cassidy ruled out Patrice Bergeron (core/groin injury) for Sunday, what will be the No. 1 pivot’s fourth straight game on the sidelines . . . Brad Marchand (flu-like symptoms) also could be hors de combat versus Les Glorieux. According to Cassidy, Marchand played through the symptoms Friday against the Rangers, remained home for Saturday’s workout, and his status for the Montreal tilt is unknown . . . Tuukka Rask (12-2-2 and in the early Vezina discussion) will be in net vs. the Habs. With eight games on the docket, Dec. 1-14, it’s possible Rask and backup Jaroslav Halak will be in a 50/50 job share over the next two weeks, though Cassidy did not rule out the possibility that Rask will make consecutive starts at one point during the stretch . . . The Bruins shellacked the Habs, 8-1, Tuesday night in Montreal, led by David Pastrnak’s sixth career hat trick. As of Saturday morning, Pastrnak still led the league with 24 goals, a half-dozen more from the closest contenders, Connor McDavid and Marchand (each with 18). Pastrnak has landed 105 shots on net, ranking fourth overall in the league. Alex Ovechkin, the shot king, led the list as of Saturday morning with 131. Pastrnak is well ahead of his career-high shot total (262), which he set in 2016-17 when he finished 34-36—70.