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It was a long road back to the NHL for David Perron of the St. Louis Blues. A concussion in Nov. 2010 robbed him of 97 games, but when he made his return to the Blues' lineup in early December, he picked up right where he left off.
In 14 games this season, Perron has scored two goals and recorded 13 points, including scoring his first of the year 6:21 into his debut against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Perron's comeback came in the middle of a St. Louis turnaround. When Ken Hitchcock was hired on Nov. 6, the Blues were 14th in the Western Conference. Today, they sit fifth, four points behind the Vancouver Canucks for the top seed.
We spoke with Perron on Wednesday about his long road back from a concussion, the impact head coach Ken Hitchcock has had on the team since his hiring and where he'd like to play a Winter Classic.
Q. How badly were you itching to get back into the lineup once you were cleared for contact and traveling with the team?
PERRON: Once I was cleared there was still some big steps to be taken in terms of taking some hits and seeing how I would react to that. I was pretty concerned how I would react. I guess we had done every possible step and I reacted good. After a week, I looked at the schedule and I thought it would be a good time to get back. I think it was five home games in a row to get myself back and see how I would react to game situations and it went good. I guess the first back-to-back games we played we went on the road and that was a little tougher, but that stuff happens.
Describe your emotions that ran through your body when you realized you scored that first goal against the Chicago Blackhawks?
As I shot the puck in the net, I got hit I think by [Dave] Bolland and that kind of took a little bit of pressure off after that; not only to take the hit, but to get the goal. It was a pretty good feeling. I was really nervous before the game; probably the most nervous I been playing in the NHL so far. To get that one early felt really good and kind of loosened me up.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about concussions?
It's tough. When you look at the person, he looks normal. I know myself when I'd go in the room last year, I looked normal to the guys and they would ask how I was feeling. And after a while it kind of gets on your nerves a little bit to get asked 30-40 times a day how you're feeling. You understand the people around your team are caring about you, but you're trying to get your mind off of everything and hopefully recovering quickly.
I think the biggest thing is, again, that you look normal to the people [around you]. Andy McDonald is coming back from a concussion. Alex Steen is just around that process who hopefully will come back soon and when you look at them they look normal. Andy Mac is skating right now with us and he's looking like a real good player out there, but he still has some steps to take before he's ready to come back.
Considering his history with concussions, was MacDonald a guy you spoke with during your recovery?
Yeah, he's probably been the player that helped me the most. Just going through different situations and coming back. At one point we had to push it and see how you react to that and there's going to be some stuff, with the exercises that's going to help and that's what we talked [about]. I think it was in August. I still wasn't feeling quite 100-percent, but I was feeling better, and talking to him and obviously doctors, we started introducing some light bike rides. As I kept feeling better and better, I got on the ice and slowly ramped it up and it sort of made me feel better and I was ready to keep progressing to my recovery.
When you miss as much time as you did, is there any apprehension? Is there a fear the next hit you take you might be out just as long?
I think the symptoms are still fresh in my mind. I remember what they are. I'm careful when I'm out there. For now and probably the first 20 or 30 games [I'm trying] to be as careful as possible and being smart out there. Obviously there's a lot of awareness right now around the game, so the players are trying to be as smart as they can out there. It's knowing who you're against on the ice and putting yourself in situations where if you get hit it's going to be a legal hit and not putting yourself in dangerous situations. I think that's just normal right now for me to have that; maybe for the rest of the season just to get back and get my feet wet again. Just the grind of the schedule is pretty tough.
After that first back-to-back, I woke up the next morning feeling pretty tired. It's just fun to be back and with all the guys in the room. It's the thing I missed the most.
You were still sidelined for the first month of Ken Hitchcock's arrival in St. Louis. From your vantage point in the press box watching games, what's really been the difference before and after Ken?
It's tough to say. It's up to guys on the ice to make a difference. Hitch has come in and made a good difference himself. I think putting everyone on the same page is probably the biggest thing. I really enjoyed being coached by Davis Payne. Last year, around the same time I got hurt, three to five guys got hurt at the same time, some of our key guys: [T.J.] Oshie, McDonald, [Barrett] Jackman, [Roman] Polak ... I got hurt and I think we were the best team in the NHL. There's more than just the injuries, but I felt we started the year really well. I guess with all the injuries we couldn't keep it going. But I think so far with Hitch it's just the way he's put everyone on the same page. When he came in maybe when he came in it was a big of an issue, but I thought to watch the games from upstairs, to watch the style of play we played when Hitch came over, we knew we had a chance to win every night and he's done a great job to get the guy guys rolling.
Since Hitch has come in the Blues have moved up the Western Conference standings. With so much hockey left to play, how do you guys in the room temper your emotions and not get ahead of yourselves?
We want to be a top team in the league and the last few years we only made the playoffs once and it's something that we want to get back into. We can't be too eager to look up, we've got to keep working and keep grinding. I think the last three games were a good reality check for us. Before that game yesterday [Tuesday's 4-1 win over Phoenix], we lost twice to Detroit and they played us really well. Every time we play Detroit they tell you a lot about your game and we talked about it in the room and see some of the adjustments we needed to make. I think next time we go in there we'll be ready for them.
If the Blues were ever on HBO's 24/7, who's a guy in the room that would stand out?
There's a few guys. I think [B.J.] Crombeen is a guy who talks a lot in the room and is a funny guy, just chirping everyone. I think it'd be a fun team to do. Some of these guys you don't notice how funny they are until you actually watch the show, so that's why I'm going to try and catch it in the summer.
Finally, if you could play an outdoor game anywhere, where would it be?
It'd be hard to not pick St. Louis. It'd be nice to see an outdoor rink at Busch Stadium. There's a few spots, I think, in the league would be really good. St. Louis/Chicago would be something pretty special, either in St. Louis or Chicago. But it's tough around this time of the year; pretty warm weather right now in St. Louis, so I don't know it they would be able to make it happen, but there was still some cold weather last year around Christmas, and quite a bit of snow, so who knows, maybe we'll get it sometime.
Photo credits: AP