Minnesota Wild defenseman Keith Ballard doesn’t recall the moments following the hit on the night of Dec. 9, 2014 — the blow that left him on Injured Reserve with three facial fractures and a concussion. He does remember the moments leading up to the play, when New York Islanders’ forward Matt Martin drove him headfirst into the boards.
“I was in a bad spot, and I think I was in a bad spot regardless,” Ballard said. “I had dumped the puck and he’s playing on the other side of the ice and comes all the way over to finish his check, which I understand that; guys like that that’s what they do."
The National Hockey League didn’t discipline Martin for the incident.
“For me, I was kind of just trying to side step it and he moved right with me,” Ballard said.
The blueliner spoke to the media today for the first time since the hit that put him on Injured Reserve and knocked him out of 11 games and counting.
As the defenseman lay on the ice after the hit, you could’ve heard a pin drop inside Xcel Energy Center as fans and players alike breathlessly waited while the team’s training staff and doctors attended to him. Though he doesn’t remember the hit, he did see the unsettling replay.
“The after part was kind of scary,” Ballard said.
The 32-year-old still has concussion symptoms and, while they persist, hasn’t considered a return to the ice. While he is hopeful for a return, be it this year or in the future, as someone with a history of concussions he knows there could be lingering effects on his career.
“Not ready to make that decision right now,” Ballard said. “I’ll make it if I get to that point. I might not have to make it depending on how long these symptoms last.”
It’s been a difficult month for the blueliner away from the ice and an uneasy way to spend the holidays.
“It was tough. Just coming home, my face is pretty smashed up and seeing my kids again,” Ballard said. “I was so out of it for the first week, not that I don’t remember, it was just kind of a blur. I just sat on the couch and didn’t do much.”
As of now, he’s not ready to rule out a return to the ice, but with more knowledge about the long-term effects of head trauma, the blueliner has his role as a father to consider.
“That’s still more important to me than playing hockey, but again I’m not going to make that decision right now,” Ballard said. “I’m going to let this play out and see how I feel.
“Hopefully things clear up and I can get back and play.”