SAN JOSE, Calif. — Ben Smith has dealt with all this before — the random headaches, the occasional dizziness, the light sensitivity. But that hasn’t made his latest concussion any easier to deal with. All he and San Jose Sharks coach Peter DeBoer know is that Smith is “close” to returning. How close is anybody’s guess.
“Every doctor you talk to says it’s so hard to predict what happens,” said Smith, who will miss his 12th straight game tonight, this one against his old Blackhawks teammates. “You can feel great for a week, then symptoms come back harder. You’ve seen guys where they come back months after the injury. They’re hard things to predict. It’s probably the most complicated injury there is in hockey. You’d love to go out there and play with a sprained ankle or a broken arm or whatever, but everyone says you can’t battle through a concussion. You just have to keep with it and try to get back to 100 percent.”
Smith actually did return to the Sharks lineup 11 days after teammate Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s shot hit him in the face in a road game against the New York Islanders on Oct. 17, because he thought he was ready.
He wasn’t. After two games of minimal ice time, the concussion symptoms came back. Nearly a month later, they haven’t gone away.
“That’s the hard part,” Smith said. “Every day you want to wake up and feel great. You want to play. You’re a competitor; we all are. This one’s taking longer than it has in the past, bunt I’m trying to take it as they tell me, take it day by day.”
The good news is, Smith has been practicing with the team for a little while now, and even joined his teammates on their six-game road trip (the Sharks won all six games). The bad news is, he won’t get the chance to play against his old team. Not yet, at least.
Smith didn’t watch much of the Stanley Cup Final last season. After being traded for Andrew Desjardins on March 2, finishing out the season with San Jose, then playing for Team USA in the World Championships in Prague, he said he largely “kept away from the TV.”
“But I was happy,” he said. “I texted a few of those guys, saying, ‘Congratulations.’ They deserved it. They were a great team. It was nice — [Jonathan Toews] texted me later and said, ‘Hey, you’re a big part of this, too.’ It was nice to get that from him.”
Smith’s name actually is on the Stanley Cup from the 2013 season, because he played in Game 3 of the Final when Marian Hossa was dealing with a back injury. He carved out a nice niche for himself in Chicago as a shutdown defender and penalty-killer.
“Benny’s a very useful player,” Joel Quenneville said. “He’s a great pro. … Just one of those kids, happy to come to the rink and left it out on the rink every single day he was here.”
And one who can’t wait to do it again — whenever that time comes.
“There are enough studies out there now, and you hear enough about it in the news,” Smith said of the long-term effects of concussions. “You want to be careful and you want to be able later in life to not look back and point back to the injuries that you sustained while you were playing as the reason you can’t go throw a ball, or remember things, or do your everyday activities. I’m trying to be careful. Obviously, I love hockey, I’m going to keep playing hockey. And [once] this gets better. I’m going to put my heart and soul into what’s going on here.”