BOSTON - At its worst, the pain kept Patrice Bergeron from watching his teammates play. Not from the press box, not from his TV at home.
"I couldn't do anything. The light was bothering me; the noise was bothering me. Everything was," said the Boston Bruins forward, who is recovering from a concussion that has kept him out since October.
"It was giving me headaches, making me dizzy," he said after skating with teammates for the first time last month. "I couldn't do anything to pass the time. I was pretty much trying to go through the day, trying to sleep and rest and feel better."
Bergeron was knocked unconscious in his 10th game of the season when Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Randy Jones hit him from behind and smashed his face into the glass. As Bergeron lay on the ice, doctors cut away his jersey and pads, then carried him off on a stretcher.
He was diagnosed with a concussion and broken nose, and he hasn't played since. Jones was suspended by the NHL for two games.
Bergeron said he hadn't spoken to Jones, but "if I run into him, maybe I'll talk."
"I don't feel like I need to call him or talk to him. I don't have any anger towards him. It's done," Bergeron said. "Obviously, it was a hit from behind. I don't think there's a need for that. As an athlete, when you step on the ice, you have to think about the consequences. You need to be smart."
Now, Bergeron is trying to be smart about his return.
In an interview at the new Boston Garden across the hall from the Bruins locker-room, while his teammates filed past on their way to the ice, the 22-year-old player described the progress he has made since the concussion left him so woozy he struggled to leave his condominium.
"I was going outside for fresh air and I could barely go farther than 20 or 50 feet before I got dizzy and had to stop and sit down," he said. "I had a hard time. Pretty much all day I was laying down, sitting on the couch and just trying to find a position where I was comfortable."
Gradually, Bergeron improved to where he could watch the Bruins play on TV. Then he started coming to the arena to see the games in person. In the last week of February, he began skating before or after practice - no stick, no contact. When the headaches returned, he scaled things back.
In the past two weeks, though, has been participating in non-contact drills with his team. He said Thursday he hoped he would be able to travel with the team to Montreal this weekend - his first road trip since the injury.
"It's a great feeling to be around the guys again, be around the locker room, have a chance to skate with the guys. I waited 4 1/2 months to have a chance to do that," Bergeron said. "It's a great sport, and you don't appreciate it as much; you don't say thanks enough.
"Now that I've been away from it, I get a chance to realize it's my passion. I'm thankful for every second, every minute that I'm on the ice."
And the Bruins are thankful to have him back.
Defenceman Aaron Ward said that when Bergeron first started coming around again, he was pale and gaunt. "He looked like he was in a haze," Ward said.
"His hands are back. He looks like a hockey player, not a guy who's trying to come back from an injury," Ward said. "All you hope for is progress."
Bergeron said this week he would like to put on another 10 pounds of muscle to get back to his playing weight of about 195 pounds. He also needs to recapture the timing that helped make him one of the NHL's most promising young players.
Whether he can pull that all together in time for the playoffs, the Bruins aren't willing to guess.
"We're not going to gamble with this guy," said coach Claude Julien, whose team is one of four fighting for the last four spots in the Eastern Conference. "There's no chances to be taking. When he comes back it will be because he's totally cleared and he's 100 per cent and there's no risk involved."
In hockey, though, there's always risk.
Bergeron has spoken to former MVP Eric Lindros and Hall of Famer Michel Goulet, both forced into retirement by concussions, and ex-Bruins great Cam Neely, his career curtailed by a knee injury.
"That's the risk you take when you step out on the ice," Bergeron said, insisting he was never concerned the injury could be career-ending. "It never crossed my mind. I know I'll be back. I'll be back as soon as I can. Whatever happens, it's going to be the best for me, and I hope it will be this year."