Flyers defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon takes long view about resuming career
After suffering two concussions in a year's time, Flyers' young defenseman is making sure he is well before getting back onto the ice.
FOR A DEFENSE corps desperately seeking consistency in the wake of mounting injuries, the familiar face of Marc-Andre Bourdon has been conspicuously missing.
That's because Bourdon has been sidelined since Nov. 30, 2012, missing 53 straight games with the debilitating aftereffects of his second concussion in a year.
"The way I see it, I have two options," Bourdon told the Daily News, opening up in an exclusive interview for the first time since his last concussion. "I can either get hit again and again and deal with these same problems. Or I can shut myself down, get better and have a long career."
For Bourdon, 23, the choice this time around was not hard. He learned the hard way last season, voluntarily covering up a concussion that he suffered in a Flyers uniform last February in an effort to keep his hard-earned NHL job.
Bourdon originally was called up by the Flyers on Nov. 21, 2011, and he was told to pack for only 3 nights. With a rash of injuries to others, he ended up not only making his NHL debut, but also, surprisingly, played 39 straight games. Bourdon took a hit in February and he knew he wasn't quite right, feeling dizzy and disoriented at times. His play suffered as a result - and general manager Paul Holmgren was forced to trade for Nicklas Grossmann and Pavel Kubina before the deadline.
Bourdon's actions were not all that unusual for fringe players on the cusp of a full-time, big-league job. Failing to seize the moment will give another player the opportunity to do so. And Bourdon didn't gripe about his demotion after the Flyers acquired Grossmann and Kubina - even though it cost him money.
Injured players are not allowed to be sent to the minors, but Bourdon kept his concussion to himself. Bourdon would have made $4,370 for every day on the NHL roster instead of his $351 in the AHL, but he chose not to relay his symptoms to the medical staff. He was the good soldier fighting to keep his job.
"I didn't want to be one of those guys that they thought I was just trying to milk a paycheck," Bourdon told the Daily News last April. "So when I got there [Adirondack], I just asked for some time off. I didn't know what else to do. I guess if I had known they were going to make those trades, I would have said something beforehand."
Bourdon, who now hopes that the culture surrounding concussions is more understanding of the seriousness of the injury, sat out for 3 weeks last spring, but was recalled to the Flyers for the final five games of the season and appeared in one playoff game against the Penguins.
Perhaps when Bourdon returned for duty this season in Adirondack during the lockout, his error in judgment from the previous season may have left him susceptible to reinjury.
"I've seen a few doctors, and no one can tell for sure one way or the other if it affected me," Bourdon said. "There is no way to tell. I am a competitor, I want to play. It's tough to sit down. But I needed to shut myself down and think about myself and my life and not hockey."
Bourdon arrived back in Philadelphia last week to begin a strict regimen to try to strengthen his eyes, which doctors finally pinpointed as the root of his symptoms. He credits numerous visits over the months with noted concussion specialists - Dr. Ted Carrick in Atlanta, Dr. Micky Collins in Pittsburgh and Dr. Francois Chaput in Montreal - for reinstilling confidence in his body.
"My eyes are off," Bourdon explained. "I have lots of headaches. The good news is that my doctors tell me it's going to come back. My reflexes are there, but my eyesight is off. It's like rehabbing a knee, I need to rehab my eyes and get everything back to where it was."
Along the way, there have been plenty of scary moments and doubts. The headaches still happen. Bourdon tried skating for approximately 15 minutes a few weeks back in Adirondack and was quickly nauseated. He is increasing his time on the ice, slowly but surely working his way to a half hour.
"It's a confidence thing," Bourdon said. "You aren't comfortable with the symptoms and sometimes they scare you. You aren't sure what you are feeling is normal. If you're rehabbing your knee, it's going to hurt to skate at first. You need to listen to your body."
Bourdon would be lying if he said he didn't begin to wonder whether his career was already over after only 46 NHL games. Blake Geoffrion, 25, retired after 55 games when he suffered a skull fracture that nearly cost him his life.
"Like every guy that has a serious injury, I think you go through a phase where you're wondering," Bourdon said. "I really feel like I'm coming along. The Flyers have been great; they've taken their time with me and supported me to make sure I feel right."
Bourdon's contract shifts to a one-way deal next season, a sign of the promise and confidence the Flyers had in his audition last season. He says he'll be ready to play next fall.
"It has been tough to sit out this year, especially now, when I know I can help the team," Bourdon said. "I know I'm going to be back. It's just a question of time."