SAN JOSE, Calif. – Ben Smith didn’t watch much of the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup final appearance – he was at the World Championships at the time.
But not long after the Blackhawks won their third Cup last season, a season Smith was a part of before he was traded to the San Jose Sharks at the trade deadline, he got a text from Jonathan Toews.
“[Toews] texted me later and said, ‘Hey, you’re a big part of this, too,’” Smith recalled. “It was nice to get that from him.”
Smith would’ve loved to play his former teammates on Wednesday night. But the Sharks forward is recovering from a concussion, sustained when a shot from teammate Marc-Edouard Vlasic hit him in the head on Oct. 17 against the New York Islanders. Smith played two games at the end of October but the symptoms soon reappeared, and he’s been sidelined ever since.
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The good news is Smith’s been skating more lately, so he could return soon. Still, Smith knows from previous experience that he has to practice patience with concussions. That doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
“That’s the hard part: every day you want to wake up and feel great. You want to play,” Smith said. “You’re a competitor; we all are. To take your time – this one’s taking longer than it has in the past, but I’m trying to take it as they tell me, take it day by day. When you consistently start feeling better is when you can start getting on the ice more, and I’ve been able to do that.”
Smith dealt with the same issues back in the fall of 2011, after he took a hit to the head from Detroit defenseman Brendan Smith. It took some time for Smith to recover from that one, too; once he did, he headed to the Rockford IceHogs, where he played most of that season. Smith said it’s the uncertainty of how he feels from day to day is when he has to practice patience the most.
“Every doctor you talk to says it’s so hard to predict what happens. You can feel great for a week, then symptoms come back harder,” Smith said. “You’ve seen guys where they come back months after the injury. They’re hard things to predict. It’s probably the most complicated injury there is in hockey. You’d love to go out there and play with a sprained ankle or a broken arm or whatever, but everyone says, you can’t battle through a concussion.”
Much like in June, Toews was wishing his former teammate well again on Wednesday.
“He was just a great teammate, a great friend; just a really unselfish, positive guy. Obviously [you] love having guys like that in our locker room,” Toews said. “We felt destined to go where we ended up last year, and it was unfortunate we couldn’t have him along with us. But sometimes that happens. You wish him all the best and hopefully he’s recovering from his current injury.”
Smith didn’t get to face the Blackhawks on Wednesday. But he’s skating more often and feeling better. Hopefully, he’ll put his concussion issues in the past soon.
“There [are] enough studies out there now and you hear enough about it in the news. You want to be careful and you want to be able, later in life, to not look back and point back to the injuries that you sustained while you were playing as the reason you can’t go throw a ball or remember things or do your everyday activities,” Smith said. “Trying to be careful. Obviously I love hockey, I’m going to keep playing hockey and wait till this gets better. I’m going to put my heart and soul into what’s going on here.”