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Skinner Returns to Practice

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
The new year started off right today for the Carolina Hurricanes.

Michael Smith
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For the first time since suffering a concussion on Dec. 7 in Edmonton, Jeff Skinner skated with the team in practice in a yellow, non-contact jersey. Skinner has missed the team’s last 10 games.

Though he still might be a ways off from returning to the lineup, today was an important step in his recovery, something the team has handled with precision.

“I haven’t been out there with that many bodies, that many pucks, that much noise, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to react,” Skinner said. “So far, I’ve felt good. I’ve got to talk to the doctors and take the next step forward.”

“He’s a huge part of this team, so he’ll continue to work on the processes, but it’s a great sign to see him out there practicing,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “He’s obviously anxious to get back in the lineup, and I’m sure he was happy just to get out there with the guys.”

“It was nice to see him out there. He looked to be in good spirits, and hopefully he continues to progress,” Eric Staal said. “He’s an important piece to our team, and a guy that has the ability to make a difference night in and night out.”

Skinner has skated a few times by himself before taking the ice with the team today, something that doesn’t really compare for the 19-year-old.

“I’ve been out a couple times by myself,” he said. “You get excited to go out on the ice, and then two minutes pass and you get bored just playing by yourself.”

Even skating by himself was a big step forward and quite a contrast to what he was doing for the first 10 days following the diagnosis. Skinner said for that stretch, he didn’t and couldn’t do anything – no television, no reading, no driving, no working out. Doctor’s orders.

And that’s when he started to notice peaks and valleys. One day, he’d wake up feeling fine; another day, he’d wake up feeling a little weird or just a bit off. To a person who isn’t concussed, this isn’t a big deal, but for Skinner, self-evaluation has become a morning routine.

“I think the most frustrating part is mentally, you feel good one day and you just want to go on the ice and start playing,” he said. “But you can’t do it that way.”

So, Skinner has taken it slow. He consults with the doctors constantly and was back doing off-ice workouts between a week and a week-and-a-half ago. It started with a quick 15-minute bike ride and progressed to longer rides and total body workouts. Once again, Skinner and his doctors assessed his head after each workout session.

The same will be done today.

“I’ve got to talk to the doctor after this, and we’ll do some more testing,” he said. “From there, hopefully get cleared for contact and then get back into game-shape.”

Skinner has a good support group around him as he works his way back into the lineup. Teammate Jay Harrison suffered a concussion recently and missed 10 games. Skinner said he has talked with Harrison about the physical therapy and workouts he did while he was sidelined.

Though Skinner said his parents ask him everyday when he might be back on the ice playing in a game, he still doesn’t know himself. But everyone has given him the same advice.

“Take your time, and come back at 100 percent,” he said they tell him.

The same goes for Joni Pitknanen, who is also out indefinitely with a concussion. Pitkanen has missed 11 games and has not made the same progress as Skinner has, according to Muller.

“Every person is affected differently,” Skinner said. “The symptoms are different and the recovery time is different, so you just have to be careful.”

Skinner was careful on the ice today, watching most of the drills from the boards along the bench area. He did jump into the last drill, a hybrid relay and shootout, and drew a few bumps.

It might not seem like much, but it’s something. Depending on how his body responds to today’s work, Skinner could be out there again with the team as the week moves forward. Once he’s cleared for contact, it’s just a matter of time before he finds his way back into the lineup.

And when he does, don’t expect him to shy away from the puck just because of his first concussion.

“It’s a contact game, and you can’t change your style if you want to be the same type of player,” Muller said. “He brings a lot of key elements to the game.”

“If I want to be effective, [changing my game] is not something I can do,” Skinner said.

Until he puts a game sweater on again, just having him back in the room and on the ice is a good sign for him and the team.

”He’s a likeable kid. He’s always in a good mood, and it’s great to see guys that are in here that want to play the game and love what they are doing,” Muller said. “It will be nice to see him change that yellow jersey and get back into the real colors.”

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