State of Hockey fans have waited a long time to hear these words, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard
has waited a long time to say them. Number 96 is coming back to the Minnesota Wild lineup.
"It's official," he told Wild.com on Tuesday morning prior to boarding a plane bound from Calgary to the Twin Cities.
Having not played a game since last year's season opener due to lingering concussion symptoms, the fourth-leading scorer in Wild history with 267 points is set to return to the lineup. Barring any setbacks in the next 24 hours, Head Coach Todd Richards will write Bouchard's name on the Wild's roster tomorrow night when the Phoenix Coyotes visit Xcel Energy Center. Richards has only been able to do that one other time in his Wild coaching career.
Bouchard has missed 112 out of the last 113 games as he tried to overcome setbacks in his recovery. After being shutdown for the better part of last season, he has been skating with the team during practices and morning skates for the better part of this season, but only recently did he feel good enough to push extra hard and not experience any pressure in his head as a result.
"The last seven to 10 days I've been feeling pretty good and pretty much symptom free," said Bouchard. "We had a conference call with Dr. (James) Kelly a few days ago and we came to the conclusion that the next step for me would be to try it in a game and see how I feel."
Bouchard's return couldn't come at a better time for the Wild, who have lost four of five but are still only three points back of first place in the Northwest Division. With goals being tough to come by, Bouchard brings the offensive playmaking that Wild fans have been hoping for. Tomorrow, they'll get to see it in person.
"I'm really excited, that's for sure, but I'm also a little nervous," he admitted. "It's been a long time and I've been waiting for that day to play again. It seems like it's going to be my first NHL game all over again."
How he'll be used and who he'll play with in his first game back remains to be seen. Richards will comment on Bouchard's return at tomorrow's morning skate. Bouchard said he expects to be eased into game situations and says he won't be playing 20 minutes a night in the next few games.
"In practice, there's so much you can do. My hands feel good. I have good jump on the ice. Hockeywise, I feel good. It's just going to be a question of getting back in game situations like battles behind the net and defensive zone coverage and getting my timing back."