It was just over two months ago when Minnesota Wild defenseman, Keith Ballard, took a hit during a game against the New York Islanders that led to an unnerving scene on the ice of Xcel Energy Center. The incident left him with three facial fractures and a debilitating concussion.
A month after the injury, he met with the media to talk about the recovery process and his future.
So it came as a pleasant surprise on this cold Sunday morning, when Ballard joined several of his teammates for an optional practice.
“There was only a couple guys here,” Ballard said. “So it wasn’t going to be much — I figured I’d give it a try. I wasn’t sure how long I was going to stay out there, but I felt good when I was out there.”
It was the first time Ballard skated since Dec. 9, 2014. He began light workouts earlier this week without any concussion symptoms.
“I’ve felt good for four or five days,” Ballard said. “It’s kind of a start I guess. I don’t know where that leads, but it’s encouraging that I can do something.”
Even Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo was surprised when he heard Ballard would skate today, but said several times it was great to see.
“I know just from talking with him, it’s been coming along slowly,” Yeo said. “It’s just nice, like I said. Obviously I don’t think we should expect him in the lineup in the next few games.”
Despite not being on the ice with his teammates, Ballard has remained a close part of the team.
“He’s been in the locker room for all the meetings, and he’s still a big part of this team,” Yeo said. “He’s a very well respected teammate, so it’s nice to have him around.”
Though he will continue to be a big part of the team off the ice, it's uncertain when he'll be able to join full-speed practices. For now, he's taking things as they come and not putting a timetable on a return.
Ballard reiterated his January sentiment that battling the symptoms has been hard — though, he added that the difficulties weren’t anything out of the blue for him.
For now, he plans to keep an eye on his fatigue and any possible symptoms while going about his normal day-to-day activities, which include hanging out with his children and wife.
“I’m not looking too far ahead or reading too far into it,” Ballard said. “It was one skate. For me, it was just fun to get on the ice.”