John Carlson near return from freak injury: ‘I was lucky just to deal with pain’

Carlson near return from freak injury: ‘I was lucky just to deal with pain’ originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

ARLINGTON, Va. — It was the type of injury that everyone knows is possible, but no one expects to happen to them.

John Carlson was in a dangerous area, positioning himself in the slot with the Winnipeg Jets controlling the puck at the point in a game at Capital One Arena on Dec. 23. That’s where he was when Jets defenseman Brenden Dillon fired a slap shot wide of the net that struck him in the side of the head. Carlson immediately dropped to the ice as blood poured everywhere.

“It was kind of survival-ish,” Carlson said Saturday of what went through his head in that moment nearly three months ago. “When you see blood, you’re just like, ‘What do I have to do to get out of here?’ kind of thing, and that’s what I was feeling like. Even in the moment, you don’t think about the pain as much, you know, just what you think is the best thing to do.”

After Capitals trainers managed to stop the bleeding, Carlson was stretchered out of the arena and transported to a local hospital. Doctors determined he suffered a fractured skull and severed temporal artery, the latter of which was the source of all the blood. The durable Capitals defenseman had spent some time on Injured Reserve before, but this injury was one that threatened his livelihood just as much as it did his playing career.

“I was lucky just to deal with pain,” Carlson said. “It was more painful for a decent amount of time but, no, still no headaches. I never had any kind of concussive symptoms or anything like that, which my protocol was basically returning from a serious head injury anyways — meaning concussion-wise, I would say. But never diagnosed with a concussion or anything like that.”

Carlson returned to the ice with his teammates for the first time since the injury on March 8 and he’s taken part in several practices since in a non-contact jersey. Head coach Peter Laviolette said at practice Saturday he believes Carlson could be cleared for contact “at some point” and that the defenseman has every intention of returning before the end of the regular season.

With only 12 games left on the schedule and the Capitals’ playoff hopes dwindling, there is some merit to the idea that Carlson should wait until next season to return to ensure he doesn’t incur any further damage. However, Carlson had in his mind from the start he wanted to make it back this year and his timeline has him on track to be a full go in time.

“He looks terrific out there,” Laviolette said of Carlson in practice. “He’s flying around. It’s like a caged dog right now, you know what I mean. So you could tell him he’s not going to play, but at some point he’ll be cleared and he’s going to want to play.”

As he’s worked through his rehab process and watched games from the press box, Carlson has felt the helplessness of seeing his team struggle in his absence and there being nothing he can do to fix it. When he went down, the Capitals were in playoff position and in the midst of an impressive 11-2-2 month of December.

However, there is no planning for a freak accident like that. His injury was one where there was nothing he could have done to prevent it. The entire process has given him some firsthand perspective on just how much of a risk players take when they step out onto the ice.

“I think the hard part is just realizing this could happen to anyone any time,” Carlson said. “As random as it was or as rare as it was, it’s a tough sport. We got a lot of tough guys in here that put themselves and their bodies through a lot to work for each other, to win hockey games and do what they love.”