Willie Mitchell talks concussion: “Eight months of my life was gone”

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This post is part of a series looking at the issue and impact of concussions in the NHL. ProHockeyTalk and Comcast SportsNet are featuring pieces today as a lead-in to tonight’s special edition of NHL Live on Versus (6:30 p.m. EST.)

Few NHLers are more qualified to speak about concussions than Los Angeles Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell.

On Jan. 16, 2010, Mitchell — then with the Vancouver Canucks — received this career-altering hit from Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin:

Mitchell suffered a severe concussion on the hit and was unable to play for eight months. He missed the remainder of the regular season, the entire postseason and has since called it “the toughest year of his life.”

Now healthy, Mitchell is flourishing with the Kings. He leads the team in blocked shots and is one of its top penalty-killing defensemen.

Recently, PHT’s Matt Reitz spoke with Mitchell about his concussion history, his recovery and the physical toll it’s taken on him.

On dealing with uncertainty and pain…

“I missed eight months of hockey. Eight months of my life was gone, right? [That’s] the reality of it, eight months of your life is gone. You’re living in pain every day, you have a headache, headache is pain. Whether it’s small, medium, or large headache, it’s pain. You live with that.

“It’s tough. You can’t do anything. You can’t read, you can’t drive your car — it hurts. Living in pain, it’s almost like, I always say, a snippet into a terminal illness so to speak. It gives you a little snippet, because not only [does it] physically bother you, but it’s the emotional aspect of it as well. You wake up every day and you don’t feel better and that can take its toll. And stress in life, what does it do? It gives you a headache. Well, that’s one thing you’re trying to get away from is a headache.”

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On the stress of dealing with his injury in Vancouver

“Some of the external factors that you can’t control, as much as you want to ignore them, sometimes you can’t. I was in a Canadian market — Vancouver — it’s crazy, we’re in the playoffs, I’m a BC [British Columbia] boy so I’m kind of a fan favorite up there and everyone wherever I walk: ‘How’s your head? How’s your head?’ That’s the last thing I want to talk about and think about. I just wanted to disconnect from that.

“So that’s what I did. I went up to my place up in the middle of nowhere, in the forest, and just chilled. It wasn’t until we actually got knocked out of the playoffs, then all those external factors [went away]. There was no more pressure on me to come back. There was no more pressure on myself to help my teammates. All of a sudden, there was a clarity. Because what do you lose? You lose all that stress.”

On the physical toll…

“We play this great game; I get in a car wreck six times per night. I do. I get in a car wreck six times a night. How many people get in a car wreck in their life? Hopefully no one. But, maybe once in your life? Hopefully it never happens. I get in a car wreck six times a night, 82 times per year, plus playoffs, and this is my 13th season at the professional level. The rest of my teammates do too. We sign up for that, we know. That’s why we get paid well.”

On teammate Mike Richards, currently out with a concussion…

“I talked to him a couple of times. It’s something that you don’t want to talk to him too much about, because like I alluded to earlier, if everyone’s asking him, ‘How you doing, how you doing?’ what’s he going to be? He’s going to be in a stressful state and he’s not going to get healthy. I just try to leave him be. I talked to him once just about my experience and said, ‘Be smart, take your time. Don’t sit there and push it.’ We’re seeing it all around the league. The guys that push it, there are recurrences to it, and first and foremost is his health.

“He [Richards] is going to get healthy.  You always get healthy and half the battle is just making sure you’re in the right mindset, that yeah, I’m going to get better and it’s going to be fine. It gets better when it gets better, because you can’t control it.”

Couture in ‘uncomfortable state’ after two facial fractures

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture played in the postseason despite two fractures in his face along with the plastic and wiring in his mouth that kept his teeth in place.

Couture revealed more details of the injuries sustained when a deflected slap shot from teammate Brent Burns hit him in the mouth in Nashville on March 25.

He said he had one fracture that went from his upper lip to the nose area that is still very sore and will take about six weeks to completely heal. The other fracture is below his bottom row of teeth.

“They’re not fun,” he said Tuesday. “It’s not extreme pain right now. Obviously it’s bearable to get by on a day-to-day basis. It’s still a struggle to eat and sleep and some of that stuff. It’s not comfortable. It’s an uncomfortable state to be in.”

Couture said he will meet with his dentist soon to figure out the next steps in recovery. He will need implants to get the teeth fixed and hopes to get that work done in the next few weeks so he can return home to Canada after that.

Couture said he is still “crushed” by San Jose’s first-round playoff loss in six games to the Edmonton Oilers and will need a few more days to get his mind right.

After San Jose made a run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago, Couture said it was frustrating to enter the postseason with the team so banged up this year.

“You sit there and think, `Why is this happening to us?”‘ he said. “It’s the game of hockey and injuries happen. Teams that win, they battle through the adversity and the injuries and other guys step up and play big roles. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that as a team.”

Couture scored two goals in a Game 4 win but did not play up to his usual standards. The Sharks were also hurt by a serious injury to top-line center Joe Thornton, who tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee on April 2 and was back playing in Game 3 two weeks later.

Thornton had two assists in the final four games of the series before undergoing surgery to repair the knee on Monday.

“He’s incredible,” Couture said. “I don’t know if he feels pain because it can’t be fun. The fact that he skated three days after it happened was shocking. I don’t think anyone expected that in our room. It shows how badly he wants to win that he was able to get back out there. The steps that he was going through to play was pretty remarkable. Everyone in our dressing room respects the heck out of that guy. He really wants to win.”

Among other injured players for San Jose were forward Patrick Marleau (broken left thumb), forward Tomas Hertl (broken foot), and forward Joonas Donskoi (separated shoulder).

You can see a picture of Couture’s damaged mouth here, but a warning — it’s pretty gross.

Bergeron may need surgery for sports hernia

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Patrice Bergeron says he may need offseason surgery to repair a sports hernia that he dealt with all year.

Bergeron missed the Bruins’ first three games of the 82-game schedule with a lower-body injury; however, he managed to play the next 79, plus six more in the playoffs as Boston fell to Ottawa in the first round.

Typically, a sports hernia is first treated with rest and physical therapy. Then, if that doesn’t solve the problem, surgery may be required.

It was a frustrating start to the season for the 31-year-old center. Bergeron had just 24 points in 49 games before the All-Star break, but he finished with a respectable 53 points in 79 games, including 21 goals.

Bergeron could win his fourth Selke Trophy in June. He’s a finalist for the award, along with Ryan Kesler and Mikko Koivu.

In other Bruins injury news, Brandon Carlo had a concussion and Torey Krug an MCL injury. Neither d-man was able to suit up for the B’s in the postseason, though Krug was close to returning.

Defenseman Adam McQuaid, hurt in Game 2 against the Sens, had a neck injury.

No Patrick Kane for U.S. at Worlds

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Tough day for USA Hockey.

After learning that prized Toronto rookie Auston Matthews was skipping the World Hockey Championships, the organization was informed Chicago star Patrick Kane would also be passing on the event.

Kane hasn’t often been able to participate in the Worlds, given he and the Blackhawks have advanced past the first playoff round in five of the last nine years. In fact, the last time Kane played at the Worlds was in 2008, when Chicago missed the playoffs entirely.

(Kane had 10 points in seven games for the Americans that year, en route to a sixth-place finish.)

Matthews cited fatigue as one of the main reasons he passed on this year’s tourney, and it’s safe to assume Kane did the same. He appeared in all 82 games for the ‘Hawks this year, four more in the playoffs, and also represented the U.S. at the World Cup of Hockey.

USA Hockey did manage to secure the services of two important players last week, however. Both Calgary sniper Johnny Gaudreau and Buffalo sophomore Jack Eichel agreed to come aboard.

Gaborik has procedure for ‘chronic’ knee issue, questionable for camp

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Yesterday, new Kings GM Rob Blake told reporters the club wouldn’t be buying out Marian Gaborik’s contract, because the veteran winger had undergone a medical procedure.

Today, the club shed more light on the situation.

L.A. announced that Gaborik recently underwent an “in-depth medical procedure for a chronic issue related to his left knee,” adding the 35-year-old would be questionable for the start of training camp.

Gaborik’s had left knee problems dating back to 2013, when he was a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He missed nearly 20 games during the ’13-14 campaign, then had more knee troubles at the tail end of ’15-16 (with the Kings).

Since injured players can’t be bought out of their contracts, Gaborik could very well open the year on LTIR, providing the Kings with some much-needed cap space.

And though Blake said next season would “be a clean slate for Marian to come in and prove himself,” there has to be some question if he’ll return.

Gaborik struggled through this season, scoring just 10 goals in 56 games while missing extensive time with a foot injury suffered at the World Cup. Health issues have dogged him throughout his 17-year career, and he’s only dressed in 110 of 164 games over the last two seasons.

Because of this, his contract has become an albatross. Signed by ex-GM Dean Lombardi, Gaborik’s seven-year, $34.125 million deal still has four years remaining, at a $4.875M cap hit. Gaborik would be 39 by the time the deal expires on July 1, 2021.

In other L.A. injury news, three players also underwent medical procedures recently. Tyler Toffoli and Derek Forbort had knee surgery, while Alec Martinez had “a minor medical procedure for a chronic issue related to his groin.” All three are expected to be ready for camp, however.