Blackhawks’ Alex Stalock hopes tricky eyesight issue has finally been resolved

The good news was Stalock hadn’t suffered another concussion, but the bad news was doctors didn’t know exactly what was wrong.

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Blackhawks goalie Alex Stalock makes a save.

Blackhawks goalie Alex Stalock has most recently missed time with an eyesight problem.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Alex Stalock and the Blackhawks initially assumed he had suffered his second concussion of the season when Jarred Tinordi collided with him in practice Jan. 16.

But health issues are often more complex than they first seem. And in this case, that assumption turned out — thankfully — to be wrong. He hadn’t suffered a second concussion; he was dealing with lingering effects from the first one.

“You sit down with doctors [and ask], ‘Can it happen that soon, within a month and a half?’ ” Stalock recounted Monday. “Maybe it can. But the symptoms we really dove into — what I was having trouble with — [indicated] it wasn’t necessarily another concussion-type [situation], which is good. You never want to be having multiple concussions.”

That revelation relieved him but didn’t solve the problem. In fact, it proved much more difficult to determine the exact issue than it was in early November, when he suffered the concussion.

They only knew his lingering symptoms all related to his eyesight, which was problematic as a 35-year-old NHL goalie.

“You’ve got to track the puck, so your head is moving one way and your eyes are going the other,” he said. “The puck is moving back 100 miles an hour in this game [and] you’re trying to keep up with it.”

Doctors therefore explored “a bunch of different avenues,” testing his eyes, inner ears, brain and other areas to try to determine the root cause. Finally, they found the presumed solution from the last thing they tried, which Stalock did not disclose. Hawks coach Luke Richardson unscientifically described it as a “cranial muscle thing in the back of his head.”

Even then, the diagnosis didn’t immediately lead to recovery. Stalock has needed to take his time.

Despite begging Hawks trainers to let him go on the last road trip just to be around his teammates — a request that was not granted — Stalock skated one-on-one with Jonathan Toews last week. He then rejoined practice Monday, having logged four or five consecutive “good days.”

After a few more practices to improve his conditioning, he plans to return to action during the upcoming four-game trip, putting his stellar .918 save percentage and plus-8.4 goals saved above average (through 14 games to date) to the test.

Richardson has seen Stalock’s “same old character” — meaning the biggest jokester of the locker room — return in recent weeks. And the opportunity that rookie Jaxson Stauber received and succeeded with during Stalock’s absence — winning four of five starts — is one silver lining.

But Stalock desperately needs the long-awaited return to routine and normalcy that getting back into the goalie rotation will provide. Beyond his physical inhibitions, his health roller coaster has been emotionally taxing.

“There’s a lot of ‘Whys,’ ” he said. ‘Why do I feel like this?’ ‘What’s going on?’ You want answers. And going through it, talking to different guys that have had [concussions], everybody’s got a different story . . . [of] how it happened and the way they feel. And you just wish you could be out there, and you can’t.”

He never contemplated shutting himself down for the rest of the season, though.

“[When] you start something, you always want to finish,” he said. “I love coming to the rink. That’s the only reason, really: I like playing. You come, you have fun. And when that stops — maybe there were points in the last couple of months [when] it did — it’s an uncomfortable feeling. It’s no fun.

“I feel like we found [the issue]. I cross my fingers and hope every morning I wake up feeling good. And I think it’s going on the right track. So I’m happy.”

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