Wednesday, December 8, 2010

McDonald fourth Blue to suffer concussion

Forward joins Perron, Colaiacovo, Janssen;
is awareness of injury enough in NHL

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Davis Payne must feel like he's been cast as Bill Murray. You know, the star of Groundhog Day.

The only difference is the Blues' coach wakes up each morning only to find a different player for his team is concussed.

Having already gone through it three times in the first quarter of the season, Payne and the Blues must go through it once again.

This time, another key player in Andy McDonald.

McDonald, who was injured in the first minute of the Blues' 2-1 overtime loss at Edmonton Saturday, has been diagnosed with a concussion and will be out indefinitely, according to Payne.

McDonald, skating towards Edmonton's zone with full speed, stumbled on a rut in the ice and crashed head-first into the leg of the Oilers' Shawn Horcoff.

As McDonald lay on the ice head-first, the Oilers' Taylor Hall scored on a breakaway goal ending the game following the turnover, but the immediate concern was for McDonald.

McDonald, 33, who has had a history of concussions during the early stages of his career in Anaheim, did not play Sunday night in the Blues' 3-2 victory at Vancouver but accompanied the team. The Blues would only say he would not play because of an upper-body injury.

He traveled home with the team to St. Louis Monday and was further evaluated.

McDonald becomes the fourth Blue (Cam Janssen, Carlo Colaiacovo and David Perron) to be sidelined with concussion-related symptoms.

Janssen and Colaiacovo have since returned from their injuries. Perron, who was injured on Nov. 4, is still sidelined.

"It's unfortunate for us and for him," Payne said of McDonald. "But again, it's just another thing we'll grind through. When he gets healthy, we'll have him back in there."

The Blues have been blasted with a rash of injuries aside from the concussions. McDonald will join forward T.J. Oshie (broken ankle) and defenseman Roman Polak (severed tendon in wrist) on the sidelines along with Perron, who is said to be feeling better but not ready to return.

Defenseman Barret Jackman (sprained knee) also missed considerable time this season but has since returned.

But instead of dwelling on what's happening to his roster and feeling sorry for himself or his team feeling sorry for itself, Payne and the Blues continue to choose to take the high road.

"It's more important to spend our time and energy looking forward to how we get ourselves ready for Columbus than it is to dwell and spend any time thinking about any sort of animal bites," Payne said.

McDonald, who missed considerable time during the Ducks' Stanley Cup run in 2003 because of post-concussion syndrome, is tied with David Backes for the team lead in points with 17.

"I was on the ice with him. I didn't see it," Blues winger Brad Boyes said. "I kind of caught it out of the corner of my eye a little bit. I was curling up the other way. ... I saw the replay and you see how bad it was.

"It's tough. Here's a guy in our lineup that's needed a lot. No one's going to feel sorry for us. Just regroup and hope for the best."

But the question begs itself: is there enough awareness around the league and in sports in general about the dangers and effects of concussions?

Specifically in hockey, are the players wearing the safest helmets possible? Do players put themselves in vulnerable positions? Do players respect opposing players enough to not cross that line of danger?

Hockey's considered a violent game, and although McDonald's concussion happened because of a fluke play, the questions do beg for answers, since more and more players in the NHL seem to be going down more and more because of concussion-related issues.

"I think more than anything, the seriousness of the issue is being more carefully looked at as far as being cautious," Blues center Jay McClement said. "It's not like years and years ago when it was just not feeling well with headaches and all those types of symptoms. I think it's taken pretty seriously. Unfortunately, there's not much you can do except time.

"I think more than anything, the injuries are taken pretty serious. You just have to make sure you take the time and obviously not play through something like that. It's not like any other type of injury where you can potentially play through it. You can't mess around with your head. It's a serious issue with not only the game but your life."

During his playing days, Payne said he had suffered "a few" concussions, but back then, there was not nearly enough awareness to identify what was going on. Payne said he only missed a week's worth of games, at the most.

"Perhaps if we had the knowledge we do now, I might have missed more time just based on knowing how dangerous it is to get right back into competition, get back into playing with the brain still healing," the Blues' coach said. "Thank goodness we are a little bit more educated on what's going on out there. We've got to make sure we do what's right by these guys."

With concussions becoming more frequent in hockey, are players altering the way they play the game?

"You can't worry about it, but at the same time, you can't put yourself in a vulnerable position," winger Brad Boyes said. "Guys are moving so fast and so quick that it's a split-second decision sometimes. It's tough to pull up. ... We've talked about it, had meetings on the rules. It's about really respecting each other. Freak stuff is going to happen."

McClement agreed.

"Once the game starts, you're playing," he said. "I don't think it's an issue for myself, but I think it's tough for guys that have had them before. I'm sure it's tough to come back from that as far as your mental state when you get out there. I guess the best you can do is protect yourself. ... With Andy, that was an unfortunate thing the way his happened. Some of them are situations you get yourself into that you put yourself in a vulnerable position. A lot of them happen on pretty innocent plays as well."

As far as his immediate future, McDonald will not do anything strenuous. He will have to be symptom-free and have to pass the standard neuro-psyche tests before getting back on the ice.

But make no mistake: players these days understand the severity of what concussion means.

"Any time that word's used, it's taken pretty serious and there's no question that you're going to have to take your time getting back with it," McClement said.

"It's been talked about a lot," Boyes said of concussions. "The head-shot rule's one thing and I know they're trying to cut that down. Something like that with Andy, you run into a guy's shin pad, anything like that can happen."

Anything seems to be happening to the Blues.

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