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Pronger still hopes comeback is in the cards

Monday, 04.22.2013 / 10:04 PM / NHL Insider

By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Likely Hall of Fame defenseman Chris Pronger is still holding out hope he'll one day be able to return to the ice. Unfortunately, he doesn't know if that will ever happen.

Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger hasn't played an NHL game since Nov. 29, 2011, a result of a serious eye injury and concussion, but the 38-year-old believes he can make a comeback. (Photo: Getty Images)

In an interview Monday with E.J. Hradek and Steve Mears on "CISCO NHL Live," the always-candid Philadelphia Flyers blueliner provided an update on his condition that has kept him sidelined since Nov. 29, 2011.

"You need to isolate yourself for the symptoms and you try to do that stuff, but it's a vicious cycle that kind of drags you down in the mud and pushes you further down into the depths," Pronger said. "At some point, you just need to kind of say ‘Enough's enough.' It was just one day in August, I looked down and I was getting fat. I was feeling good, wasn't eating very healthy, wasn't really doing anything healthy. As an athlete who kind of prided himself on being in shape and preparing and doing all these things, and then you stop doing it cold turkey … it can be a little disheartening."

Pronger sustained a serious injury to his right eye during a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 24, 2011, when he was hit by the stick of Mikhail Grabovski. The injury damaged Pronger's eyesight and his ocular and vestibular systems, and is one of the causes of his concussion symptoms.

"A lot of times if you're walking around a corner or opening up a door … you just have that feeling," Pronger said. "It's hard to describe, but you're on the ice and you just know somebody's around you so you're careful. You know somebody's close, you're going to get hit, you just prepare yourself. And even if somebody's not there, you're still prepared. It's kind of the mindset where you're better safe than sorry.

"Since I've been hit in the eye, I just do not have that. I don't know why or what the reasoning is behind it, but I get … I don't know if scared might be the right word … but I get shocked. It's difficult when you're used to really knowing what's going on, whether it be directly in your field of sight or your peripheral vision or you get a sense of somebody's coming up behind you to talk to you. I get people who tap me on the shoulder all the time and you get a little jarred sometimes."

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Pronger appeared in five games after suffering the eye injury. His condition worsened, although he still managed to get two assists in the last game he played.

"It wasn't pretty … I can tell you that," Pronger said of the brief comeback. "You get paid to play hockey and you get paid to perform. As professional athletes, we've all played through a lot of pain to do our jobs and you kind of get in that rhythm or mode of it's just another injury, you kind of push it off and it'll get better and you just continue to play. You don't realize the magnitude of the injury and you just kind of push yourself through. You just play a few games, you'll feel better, you've got to get into better shape, you haven't done anything for a while. It was actually the exact opposite, where I was getting worse. I was getting more nauseous with each practice and game, I was getting more symptoms, more headaches, the dizzy spells were more often. It wasn't going away as fast. Loud noises were troubling."

Pronger, who won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, said it's this time of the year that is the toughest to sit and watch. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin next week.

"This is a time I got geared up for and loved to play," Pronger said. "The stakes are at their highest. Everybody's playing at their optimal level. Teams are peaking and you get hot goalies and hot lines. It can make or break a lot of careers and a lot of guys' opportunities."

There is little doubt Pronger will one day be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. In 1,167 games with the Hartford Whalers, St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers, Ducks and Flyers, he has 698 points and 1,590 penalty minutes. He won the Hart and Norris trophies in 2000, and played in three Stanley Cup Finals. He also has a Memorial Cup championship, a World Junior Championship gold medal, a World Championship gold and two Olympic gold medals.

But he'd like to leave the game on his own terms. Whether he'll be able to do that remains to be seen.

"It's probably a little early to start forecasting any of that stuff," Pronger said. "Obviously, with where I'm at health-wise and my struggles and just trying to continue to get healthy and see how far back I can get. Can I get back to 100 percent? I don't know. Are the odds with me? I don't know.

"The biggest thing on my mind is getting healthy and trying to get back to 100 percent and play again. Barring that, I don't really know. There's a lot of great ideas out there, I've just got to find the one that's a perfect fit for me."

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Playing for my favorite team growing up, I've probably scored that goal a million times in my driveway. It feels good to actually do it in real life.

— Dale Weise, who grew up a Canadiens fan, on scoring the overtime winner in Montreal's 5-4 victory against Tampa Bay in Game 1