– Of all the ways to sustain a concussion in the fast-paced, physical sport of hockey, Riley Nash
has a rather unique story.
On Sunday, March 29, as the Hurricanes and Bruins were on the ice preparing for their early evening faceoff, warm-ups were winding down. The Canes were running one last drill, if you even want to call it that: gathering around the net and trying to whack the puck past Cam Ward. As is routine, Jeff Skinner lobbed a puck in from just inside the blue line. Alexander Semin flattened his blade, and the puck caromed off his stick and into the right side of Nash’s head – right where his ear was exposed and unprotected.
“I was wearing [a helmet]. It got right in the, I think it’s like, three-inch by four-inch hole that we don’t have protection on. It’s just one of those things,” Nash said. “It’s a little odd. Not something you’d ever guess would happen and get a concussion. But honestly it’s kind of weird it doesn’t happen more with how many pucks are flying around out there, how little face shield we wear, no ear protection and all that.”
The sheer unexpectedness of the impact caused Nash to stumble a bit after being struck before he skated off to the locker room. Though he was scheduled to play that afternoon, he would be scratched with what was then an upper-body injury and later confirmed as a concussion, the second of his career.
“He (Semin) apologized. It’s just one of those unlucky things. It could have gone off anybody’s stick. I was just on the wrong end of things,” Nash recalled. “It blindsided me. I wasn’t paying attention. I thought I was enough out of the way, but next time I’ll stand out by the blue line so I don’t get hit.”
Nash required 15 stitches on his ear to repair the damage and, as is the norm with concussions, was confined to doing not much of anything.
“I felt pretty good today, other than just trying to get the wind and the legs back,” he said on Friday after skating with the team for the first time since sustaining the injury. “I think concussions are the worst thing to come back from because you’re literally just supposed to sit there and do nothing, so it’s a real shock to the system when you’re allowed to go again.”
With just a week remaining in the regular season, the Hurricanes are slated to practice again just once – this Friday in Raleigh – in addition to four scheduled morning skates ahead of the team’s last four games.
Nash has joined the team on their final road trip in the hopes of returning to the lineup.
“I’ve done most of the testing. I think I have a couple more to do. The game plan is just trying to skate as much as possible to get back in shape, and hopefully I don’t lose too much more (conditioning) than I have in the last five days,” Nash said. “It’s funny; you play 70 games and then sit out four days and try to come back, it just goes so quick. I’m going to work really hard to get back for the last couple of games.”
And when he does return to the lineup, expect to see him sport ear protection similar to Jeff Skinner on either side of his helmet – at least for now.
“I’ve been catching a little bit of grief from family and friends about putting those on,” Nash said. “Those who are concerned about my melon probably will make me do it, so I’ll probably end up putting a couple on for the rest of the year and then probably take them off again this summer. I’m not sure how often this happens. Knock on wood. Hopefully it doesn’t.”