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Skinner Cleared for Contact

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
Jeff Skinner got news last night from his doctor that he’s been anxiously awaiting: he is cleared for contact.

Michael Smith
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Today in practice at Raleigh Center Ice, Skinner took the ice in a red jersey and actively participated in every drill, a first for the sophomore forward since he suffered a concussion on Dec. 7.

“Today is a big step for me to get out there in a normal jersey and play in all the drills,” he said. “But, there are not the huge hits that you’re going to see in the game.”

Skinner has practiced for over a week wearing a yellow, no-contact jersey. He’s continued to talk with his doctor twice a day. His doctor runs daily tests to assess his progress. Skinner said that he passed one of his tests last week and finally cleared two more yesterday.

“I don’t know if I annoyed him or he annoyed me,” Skinner said, smiling. “Progress is slow. Sometimes you aren’t feeling well. But he’s been a huge help and real supportive. Having that sort of experience, he knows how to handle it.”

Now that the contact hurdle has been cleared, the medical staff will see how Skinner responds to today’s practice. That could determine whether he plays tomorrow in Tampa Bay, according to head coach Kirk Muller.

“If he’s clear with all his symptoms, then we can make a decision,” Muller said. “I’d love to see him in tomorrow, but obviously we’ll be cautious. It has a lot to do with how he feels and how he responds to today.”

Though maybe a little winded, Skinner seemed all right at first glance immediately following practice. He was upbeat and hopeful about getting back into the lineup soon.

“It’s not up to me,” he said. “The doctors, trainers and coaching staff will make the decision for me, so the pressure is kind of off me in that way.”

Skinner has missed the team’s last 14 games. Before he went down with the concussion, he was the team’s leading scorer with 24 points (12g, 12a). To bring that element back to the lineup would be a boon to the team.

“He opens it up … he makes other players better,” Muller said. “He’d be a welcome addition to help create plays on the power play.”

Though it might be premature to start prognosticating where Skinner would fit into the forward lines when he returns, one has to think that being reunited with Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen on the “Finns and Skins” line is an attractive option.

“It makes sense to put them together,” Muller said. “It would really depend on what the personnel with the rest of the guys are with injuries and all that.”

For Skinner, the road of recovery has been long and frustrating, especially considering the uncertainty that surrounds concussions. But Skinner gives credit to his support group – Jay Harrison, who went through a concussion last month, the medical staff, his doctor and his former teammates up in Kitchener. He even spoke with fellow Hurricane Ryan Murphy, who also was concussed in the Fall.

“When you don’t know how long it’s going to be and you don’t know what steps are going to be taken to get back into game shape, it can be frustrating,” he said. “You just have to stick with it. I’ve been fortunate because I’ve had a lot of support.

“Just coming around here with my teammates, it sort of lifts your spirits.”

It’s clear from Skinner’s demeanor that he’s happy just to be progressing, even if he doesn’t get into the lineup tomorrow. Anything to get out of the press box.

“The game looks a lot easier from up there,” he said. “But, I’m ready to get back on the bench.”

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