Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Bouwmeester feeling "pretty good" in first public comments since cardiac episode

Blues defenseman's season is over, career undecided, in doubt; 
if career is over, it's been a terrific 17-year run for 36-year-old

ST. LOUIS -- Jay Bouwmeester walked up to a press conference table for the first time since a near-fatal cardiac episode and declared himself to be feeling "pretty good."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester addressed the media on Wednesday for
the first time since experiencing a cardiac episode on Feb. 11.

There was some doubt on Feb. 11 in Anaheim, which should have been a normal game night for the 36-year-old, but since that night 15 days ago that nearly took his life had it not been for the heroic efforts by training staffs of both the Blues and Anaheim Ducks, doctors, paramedics, players, coaches and anyone else that saved the defenseman's life, Bouwmeester has had time to reflect on a life beyond hockey.

"I was out there (at the UC Irvine Medical Center) for five days, I got back, that’s all you want to do is be around your family and focus on them and make sure they’re doing OK," Bouwmeester said in his first public comments at Enterprise Center on Wednesday. "We’ll get to the point where she’ll (wife Devon) probably want to kick me out of the house but that’s why I can come down here so it’s good."

What is known, and to no surprise, is that Bouwmeester's season is done. He and general manager Doug Armstrong came to that understanding pretty quickly after Armstrong has spoken at length with Bouwmeester the past week or so and came to one conclusion.

"We both understand that he won't participate this year in the regular season or in the playoffs for us," Armstrong said. "We talked about longer term things that may or may not happen and both feel that it's February, 'You don't have to make long-term decisions at this point.' He's going to take time, getting back with his family and be around the team and he'll address those things as the summer progresses.

"It's obviously great to have him back home and back around our team. He's been at the arena the last few days, he's been at a couple games. It's a great presence on our locker room and it's just great to see him here again."

Bouwmeester experienced the episode and collapsed before he was revived with a defibrillator with 7:50 remaining in the first period that Feb. 11 night. The game was postponed and rescheduled for March 11 at Honda Center. It will follow the same 60-minute format of all regular-season games (including overtime/shootout as necessary) and begin with the score tied 1-1, as it was when the game was postponed.

Bouwmeester's season has been decided, but as for his future, well, no decision has been made and no rush to decide either. But he has a wife and three daughters, ages eight, five and two, that need a husband and father more than he needs hockey.

"There's been a lot going on," Bouwmeester said. "I think that's something I'm going to definitely have to evaluate, but to say I've done that, I wouldn't say fully yet. There's decisions I'm going to have to make. That'll come later."

In the meantime, Bouwmeester has been coming around the rink, visiting with teammates and, as Brayden Schenn said, "'Bouw' being 'Bouw.' 

"Yeah, you're not going to get much out of him. There's moments when you get chatty 'Bouw' but not very often. I think the presence that he has in this locker room and throughout the organization is incredible. To see his face, whether it be morning skates or practices, I think it's good to see.

"I think just him being around with his resume and the respect that he has in this locker room. When he's around, guys are listening. If he's talking, guys are listening. Everyone knows if he's here or not. I think just having JayBo here, it means a lot to us just to have him around."

Bouwmeester said he feels as normal as can be.

"I'm at the point right now where I feel pretty good," Bouwmeester said. "That's kind of the weird thing about this whole thing is you go from something that happened totally out of the blue and unexpected to being in a hospital for a couple days. There's some restrictions as to what I can do, but I feel pretty normal, so that's a good thing."

Bouwmeester had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) procedure Feb. 14 to restore his heart's normal rhythm. The Blues placed him on long-term injured reserve Feb. 18, and he visited his teammates for the first time prior to their 3-0 win against the New Jersey Devils.

"From my standpoint, I just wanted to say thank you to Ray Barile and the training staffs of both our team and Anaheim and the doctors and all the paramedics and everybody who's helped me that night and up to this point," Bouwmeester said. "It was a scary thing, but everything has been going pretty good lately. I'll just continue to evaluate things as they go.

"The outreach and the support that people have shown has been pretty overwhelming. The actual where this took place and the people that were around at the time as well as my dad [Dan Bouwmeester] being there on the trip, there were a lot of things that were absolute base-case scenario."

Bouwmeester has nine points (one goal, eight assists) in 56 games this season. He had seven assists in 26 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help the Blues win the Cup for the first time in their 51-season history. 

He was traded to St. Louis by the Calgary Flames on April 1, 2013 and had 124 points (17 goals, 107 assists) in 490 regular-season games with the Blues.

Selected by the Florida Panthers in the first round (No. 3) of the 2002 NHL Draft, Bouwmeester has 424 points (88 goals, 336 assists) in 1,240 regular-season games with the Blues, Flames and Panthers and 13 assists in 75 playoff games.

Bouwmeester's resume is impeccable, and if it were to be written in finality on this day, he would be the envy of many current players and those aspiring to be NHL players, or hockey players in general. It includes a Stanley Cup with the Blues last season, a gold medal with Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics, a two-time NHL All-Star (2006 and 2008), named to the 2002 NHL All-Rookie Team, played in the 2002 NHL YoungStars Game and part of the 2001 World Junior Championship All-Star team.

"He's been a very good player and fortunate to be involved in as many winning things, Olympics, World Championships, Stanley Cups, played a long time, but he deserves it all," Blues coach Craig Berube said of Bouwmeester. "He deserves it all. He was a real good pro, looked after himself extremely well, trains, does all the right things.

"... I think he's a big influence. Just out of the respect for his career and the person he is for sure. The guy's won everything and been involved in hockey a long time. He can add a lot of insight, not only to the players but to the coaches. We've talked to him too if he wants to come in and tell us what he's seeing, I'm all for it."

Schenn is a Stanley Cup champion and Bouwmeester's teammate since 2017 and said of Bouwmeester's resume that he'd take, "Even half of that. It's incredible. The way he plays the game, whether it's against top players for his whole career, blocking shots, playing hard minutes and then when you add on top of that what he's done with All-Star Games, winning the Stanley Cup last year, World Championship, Olympics, there's not many guys that are part of that triple gold club. Pretty good resume for 'Bouw.' We're just happy to have him around and being in St. Louis and being around the room. You really see what he brings around this locker room and just having guys being around him brings a lot of life to our room."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (right) defends against Jets forward
Patrik Laine earlier this season.

Bouwmeester will just take things day by day, and that will include coming around the guys and being as hands-on as allowed or feeling the need to. Anything else would just be speculative at this point. 

"It’s been good. We have a good, close group of guys," Bouwmeester said. "I think it’s helped me for sure, to come and see them. I think it’s helped a lot of those guys too to see me back to normal. For me, the incident, I know it happened, but I wasn’t there. There were other people that saw what happened and it was probably more traumatizing for them. I think when they see you up walking around it helps get things back to normal."

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