After an absence of nearly three years, Dave Scatchard
hasn't just returned to the NHL. In many ways, the Nashville Predators
' center has been to hell and back.
On Jan. 27, 2007, Scatchard was playing his 651st game in the bigs, with his fourth NHL squad, the Phoenix Coyotes
, when his life took a sudden, fateful turn.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder from Hinton, Alta., absorbed a hit from Pittsburgh's Sergei Gonchar
and was catapulted face-first into the boards at Phoenix's Jobing.com Arena, sustaining a concussion and losing a handful of teeth.
The fact that he would play only 11 pro games over the next two-and-a-half years, that the Coyotes would buy out his contract in the summer of 2007, that he would have to go hat in hand for an NHL free-agent tryout two years later — all that was of little consequence in comparison to the personal agony he endured over the next year of his life.
The constant pain, the sapped strength, even the loss of balance were attributed to post-concussion syndrome. For the scrappy, resourceful, utility man, it was a terrifying time.
"It wasn't about playing hockey, it was about living," Scatchard, 33, told NHL.com. "It's almost indescribable. There are so many things that go through your head, and your body starts not to work the way it once did. That's what was scary and frustrating.
"You're continually soul searching, with thoughts like: 'Why is this happening to me? What can I do to fix it?' You almost go crazy trying to figure it out. Finally, when you do, it's the biggest relief you've ever felt."
For Scatchard, that breakthrough came early in 2008, when in desperation he visited a Seattle-based doctor, of German heritage, who practiced Oriental medicine.
Scatchard was told that his bewildering medical problems all stemmed from a bite problem, with his false teeth throwing his jaw out of alignment.
"It took me well over a year and change before I could start treating everything properly," Scatchard said. "It seemed like once we started working off the jaw, and the teeth alignment, and the bite, all the symptoms started to go away."
As Scatchard recently told The Tennessean: "When you think about it, if you're walking around with your jaw out of alignment for 15 months, you're going to have some tension in your neck."
During his hockey hiatus — interrupted only by 11 AHL games during the 2007-08 season — Scatchard was a stay-at-home dad, helping to raise his daughter, born in 2007, and his son, who came along in early 2009.
But the former Vancouver Canuck, New York Islander and Boston Bruin still felt he had something to contribute to the NHL and earned a tryout to the Canucks' training camp this past September.
He didn't stick, but the Canucks "put in a good word for me with some other teams," and he was signed by the Predators in October and sent to the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals to get ship-shape.
On Oct. 27 at Boston, after a 996-day absence, Scatchard returned to the NHL, taking one shot on goal and earning a plus-1 rating during the Preds' 3-2 loss to the Bruins.
"He's a veteran presence, a big body, a right-handed draw, a guy who can play multiple positions," Nashville head coach Barry Trotz
told NHL.com. "He didn't play and couldn't get work, but Dave has scratched and clawed his way back into an NHL lineup.
"It wasn't about playing hockey, it was about living. It's almost indescribable. There are so many things that go through your head, and your body starts not to work the way it once did. That's what was scary and frustrating."
-- Dave Scatchard
"It's a good story. It speaks of good character traits," adds Trotz. "And it also represents a lot of what we do in Nashville. You give people opportunities. If they earn 'em, then good things can happen."
Scatchard scored his third goal of the season on Saturday afternoon into an empty net as the Predators won their fourth-straight game over the homestanding Calgary Flames
A former 27-goal scorer with the Islanders, Scatchard has been used in a supporting role on the fourth line, and has averaged a touch over 11 minutes per night through 15 games this season.
The Preds' October leap of faith, in the form of a contract, "means everything to me," says Scatchard, "and I'm just getting warmed up.
"I'm not really playing a huge volume of minutes, or anything, so I think when an opportunity does present itself for more minutes, the production will start to show a little bit more. But I am feeling really good."