The 23-month-old didn’t understand why daddy wasn’t playing hockey like he normally does, but she didn’t care, tea parties are much more fun with two people.
“There were a lot of tea parties,” laughed Keith Ballard Tuesday afternoon after taking part in his first full practice with the Vancouver Canucks after missing 23 consecutive games with a concussion.
“That was the upside to being home so much, I got to spend a lot of time with my family. It was tough at first, my wife had to tell Ava I was sick and couldn’t play, but as I started feeling better obviously we’d go to the park and have a lot of fun.”
Ballard’s injury occurred on February 5th when the Canucks came back to beat the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 in a shootout thanks to Kevin Bieksa’s late game heroics.
When Ballard suited up three days later in Nashville, his neck didn’t feel right and headaches were coming and going. He tried to push through it, but it was too much. That began a painful stretch of recovery that included regular headaches, nausea, low energy and dizziness.
In Ava terms, daddy was sick.
“There were days where I wouldn’t get out of bed. She’d come in the room and tell me to get up and come play. I’m glad I can now.”
The Canucks and fans everywhere are equally as glad.
Although a time frame has not been set for Ballard’s return to the line-up, he said his on-ice participation Tuesday was a step in the right direction. He was noticeable during practice for two reasons: one being the white helmet he was sporting, the other that he was out of sync and not quite up to Ballard standards.
“Judging by some of those drills today, no,” said Ballard, when asked if he’s close to returning.
“I don’t think I’m overly close, I’m not that far away, but just getting into the rush drills and that type of stuff I felt rusty and my timing was off. Skating wise I felt good, conditioning wise I felt decent, but it’s that timing and getting into those situations and we’ve got a few more practices to be able to replicate that.”
By my count the Canucks have roughly five practices remaining before the beginning of the 2012 NHL Playoffs on April 11th. That doesn’t leave Ballard much time to get his groove back, so he’s going to push himself whenever possible, including game day skates if need be.
Even then, he won’t know how he’ll respond to getting hit until he gets hit.
“I think it’s going to have to be one of those things where I just get hit, then you realize you’re okay. It’ll be important in the next week or so to get myself where my timing is there and my conditioning is there and I’m up to speed, so I don’t put myself in a position to take those big hits. Those are a lot of situations where you see guys getting injured.”
Daniel Sedin wasn’t in one of those situations last week in Chicago when he suffered a concussion after receiving an elbow to the head from Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith, yet he remains sidelined with a concussion and at least one symptom Ballard experienced - headaches.
Ballard hasn’t spoken with the Canucks sniper and he won’t be giving him a call anytime soon. He knows from experience the best medicine is silence.
“I think the most important thing for us and for Danny is for us to leave him alone. Every day you get ‘how are you feeling, how are you feeling, how’s your head’ and he doesn’t need that from us too, he gets enough of that anytime he sees anyone or anytime his phone rings. Time will heal it and hopefully for his sake and this team, he'll be back as soon as possible.”
Now that Ballard is at least back practicing and around teammates, he’s spending less time at home, which Ava doesn’t like. His wife Jamie, on the other hand, she was ready for her big kid to return a while ago.
“I think I really rocked the dynamic of our household being around so much,” joked Ballard. “Now things are back to normal and everyone is happy about that.”