Right Wing - DET
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 1
SOG: 24 | +/-: 0
– It’s been a long time, but Patrick Eaves
was astounded by just how long it’s been since he’s played in an NHL game.
Four hundred and nineteen days!
“That’s what it was?” Eaves asked. “I didn’t know it was that long. That’s a long road.”
After 419 days on injured reserve, Eaves got the best news of all this week: He’s been cleared by team doctors and will likely be in the lineup for Saturday’s season-opener against the Blues at Scottrade Center.
“I knew I’d be back,” he said. “I didn’t know when or how, but I knew I would come back and play. I had no timeline to be honest with you. I just knew I’d be back.”
It’s been an arduous journey for the Wings’ forward who was forced to endure months of rehabilitation – making four trips a week to Ann Arbor sometimes – for reoccurring concussion-like symptoms after he was struck in the head by a puck nearly 14 months ago.
Eaves last played on Nov. 26, 2011, when late in the third period of a game against Central Division rival Nashville, he attempted to block a shot by Predators defenseman Roman Josi. The rookie’s high-rising shot struck Eaves on the right side of the head just above the ear flap of his helmet.
It was immediately apparent to everyone that he was seriously injured. As Eaves lay motionless on the ice, teammates, team doctors and training staff from both the Wings and Predators rushed to his side. He was taken off the ice on a stretcher and rushed by ambulance to Detroit Medical Center.
Two days later, he underwent surgery to repair a fractured jaw. Doctors thought Eaves might miss 6-8 weeks, but then came the debilitating headaches, which he had nearly every day for months.
“It was rough. It was really rough,” said Eaves, who had a goal in 10 games prior to the injury. “I had a great support staff with my wife and family and doctors and teammates and I wouldn’t have made it without them. It was a long rough road. To be back cleared is a great thing. I’m very fortunate to be back playing.”
Forward Drew Miller, who was Eaves’ roommate on the road before his injury, saw what Eaves went through to return to the game.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize the extent of what was going on and how much it affected him,” Miller said. “For him to recover and be able to play is great news.”
Following the lockout, Eaves joined his teammates during the final week of informal player workouts, and he says that he felt better physically at this week’s shortened training camp.
While he doesn’t remember the last time he’s had a headache or any of the other symptoms, Tuesday’s intra-squad scrimmage was a huge hurdle in his recovery.
“I had a feeling that was a big part of it,” said Eaves, of passing Tuesday’s test. “I didn’t know that was the final (step) or that big of a step. But it was a big step for me personally to be back playing.”
During Friday’s practice, Eaves worked with the third line, joining Daniel Cleary and center Justin Abdelkader. But afterwards, Wings coach Mike Babcock said he was undecided on Saturday’s lineup.
With Darren Helm (back) on IR, and Todd Bertuzzi back home sick, that leaves Eaves and Jan Mursak to fill the void on the third line.
“Good thing about it is I don’t have to tell you,” Babcock said, “because I don’t know and I still haven’t decided.”
Either way, Eaves said he’s prepared to return to action.
“I feel good out there. I feel up to speed and ready to go,” he said. “This week was great, practice and then the scrimmage it gave me the ability to get up to speed.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose