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Still symptomatic, Franzen hopes to return

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Johan Franzen was helped off the ice by Red Wings trainer Piet Van Zant in Edmonton on Jan. 6. (Photo by Getty Images)

BRANDON, Fla. – By his standards, Johan Franzen had a full day Wednesday.

The Red Wings’ power forward who is recovering from post-concussion symptoms went for a long walk and did minutes of yoga in the morning. He then rode a stationary bike for 10 minutes and skated another 30 minutes in the afternoon at the Ice Sports Forum, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s practice facility.

It doesn’t sound like a lot for a professional athlete, but it was enough for Franzen, who is still symptomatic with headaches, nausea and other symptoms that are usually triggered by exertion like skating.

“The more you do, the harder it is for your brain,” Franzen said. “The more movement, usually bikes are easier, you don’t have to think you just move your legs. When there are a lot of factors coming in it’s a little harder.”

After working out for more than an hour Wednesday, Franzen said he knew what was coming next.

“I’m kind of expecting a headache, I’ve got a little bit of one now, but I’m expecting something this afternoon and at night,” he said. “It’s my routine pretty much. Just go to bed in the afternoon and kind of get out of it a little bit and then get back on it the next morning.”

Franzen hasn’t played since absorbing a neutral zone hit to the head by Rob Klinkhammer in Edmonton on Jan. 6. Franzen finished the game, but didn’t begin feeling concussion symptoms until he was on the bus hours later as the team traveled to the airport.

Since then he’s had little improvement. Franzen said he’s met with so many neurologists and other specialists over the last three months that he’s lost count.

“The first two months, I didn’t get out of bed,” he said. “I got up and tried to do whatever and got a migraine and had to shut right down. The last month, it’s been progressing slowly but steadily getting better. I still got a lot of issues but at least I can get through workouts and get something done during the day.

“I usually get a setback in the afternoon and at night but I’m just happy that I can work-out and start to feel like a human being again.”

While not playing is disheartening, not being himself around his wife and two young sons hurts more.

“It’s tough to see the disappointment in their eyes when ‘Why can’t dad play with us?’ ” Franzen said. “You know it breaks your heart but it’s a lot better now so I can do all that stuff and it feels really good.

“It gets you thinking when you’re in that position where you can’t do that anymore, it’s really heartbreaking. So it makes you make every day count and play as much as you can with them.”

The 35-year-old Franzen has experienced at least 10 traumatic brain injuries, but this recent one has made him think more about the future, not only of his career, but of his family.

“This time was a little bit scarier,” he said. “You can’t for two months not being able to pick up your kids or play with your kids for more than two minutes. It makes you think a little bit but you know I’m slowly getting better, so that puts my mind to rest, I feel a lot better both mentally and I was in a really dark place maybe not the first month because you think it’s gonna get better. But then when it doesn’t get better, you start wondering.”

Although it’s an extreme long shot, Franzen holds out hope that he’ll somehow be able to return to the Wings’ lineup this spring. His 12 career game-winning goals in the Stanley Cup playoffs is tied for the all-time franchise lead.

“I wouldn’t rule it out completely,” he said. “I’m skating so maybe deep in the playoffs would be a chance if it would turn around like soon but then it’s gotta turn around within like two weeks or something like that to be able to get in shape for this playoffs.”

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