When Stars forward Patrick Eaves got hit in the head with a puck in the Feb. 13 game against Florida, there was a lot of concern. Eaves had been down this path before when he was with Detroit, and it wasn’t pretty. He sat out almost 14 months after a shot by Nashville defenseman Roman Josi broke his jaw and left him with a concussion.
“It was a long time. It was miserable,” Eaves said. “My wife basically got me through it. And Dr. [Jeffery] Kutcher out of the [Michigan NeuroSport Program]. Between those two, they really saved me.”
And he leaned on his father, Mike, the head coach at the University of Wisconsin and former NHL player who had his playing career cut short by concussions.
For Patrick Eaves it was more than not playing hockey. It was struggling with everyday life. He couldn’t sleep the first couple months after getting hit. It didn’t help that his jaw was wired shut. Then there was family. He and his wife, Katie, had one young child and another on the way.
“It was tough not being able to do the little things, like be a father. That was probably the hardest thing,” Eaves said. “And be a husband.”
But Eaves was determined to bounce back from the injury, get on with life and get back to playing hockey.
“I knew I was going to come back; I just didn’t know how long it was going to take,” he said. “It brought my wife and I closer and we came out swinging I guess.”
Eaves eventually returned to playing for the Red Wings and spent some time in Nashville before signing with the Stars as a free agent this summer. He’s turned out to be an effective player for the Stars, registering 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 42 games. And he’s had to battle through injuries again, including a broken foot and the concussion he suffered when he was hit in the head by a shot in that Florida game.
The Dallas Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association (PHWA) has nominated Eaves as the Stars’ candidate for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for the 2014-15 season. The award is given to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
“When we signed Patty we knew what he was. He’s a character player. He’s been everything we could ask for and more on and off the ice. He’s bounced back from his injuries and been a big part of our team,” said Stars GM Jim Nill. “He’s played in every situation. He does the little things right on the ice. Off the ice, you wouldn’t meet a better family man and person in the community. He sets the standard for the way you want to live your life on and off the ice.”
Stars coach Lindy Ruff has used the 30-year-old Eaves, who has also played for Ottawa and Carolina during his career, up and down the lineup, including the top line. Eaves has seen special teams time as well, scoring four power play goals.
“For me he’s been a guy that I’ve been able to put in a lot of different places and he’s been effective. He’s a nice guy to have on a line,” Ruff said. “With the puck and how he plays the game, there’s not very many players on our team that are smarter than he is.”
Eaves missed three games in November with a lower-body injury. The broken foot – also the result of getting hit with a puck - cost him 21 games. The shot to the head in the Florida game – when he was hit as he positioned himself in front of the opposition’s net – resulted in the concussion, and that cost him another seven.
“When I came to my head was clear and my eyes were clear. I knew it wasn’t even anything close to what I dealt with in Detroit,” Eaves said. “I really dodged a bullet on where it hit me in the face. I was thankful it didn’t get me in the jaw again. [Having my jaw] wired shut would have been a pain in the butt all over again.”
Eaves came back from that injury and has played well. He scored a goal in his first game back in the lineup, and he has eight points (four goals, four assists) in his past nine games. And he’s still going to the front of the net, putting himself in harm’s way to try to score those goals.
“The pucks fly around the net, and that’s where I like to be,” Eaves said. “Sometimes they go in off you too. So I am going to keep going there and we’ll see what happens.”
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.