The Wild forward does not take his good health lightly, not after all that he has been through.
SAN JOSE, CALIF. - It wasn't his Spin-O-Rama breakaway goal last month against Edmonton's Nikolai Khabibulin or his waning-seconds overtime breakaway winner three nights later against Anaheim's Dan Ellis.
It didn't take Pierre-Marc Bouchard more than a second to come up with what's been the best part of arguably the NHL's best feel-good comeback of the 2010-11 NHL season.
"There's no play in particular, no goal," Bouchard said, smiling. "For me, it's just to compete with my teammates again and try to win games. That's what I missed the most, and now I'm able to do it again."
Bouchard is 3 1/2 months into his comeback from a debilitating concussion that ended his season prematurely in 2008-09 and limited him to one game last season. He has scored eight goals and 29 points in 47 games.
What makes this so satisfying is there were days during his year-plus away from hockey when he wondered if he'd ever play again.
But for Bouchard, it went deeper. He wondered, most of all, if he'd ever feel normal again.
"You're hoping. You're trying to stay positive. But there are days where I was not sure it would go back to the way it was before," Bouchard said. "That's when I was trying to look around the league at other guys [like Boston's Patrice Bergeron] that went through it, they took a year off and they were fine.
"So I was always like, 'Just be patient, be patient.' ... Now, I'm really, really happy. It feels almost like a second chance. I feel fortunate and thankful to be playing again. I really missed it."
Hot topic in NHL
Concussions have been a big topic in the NHL this season. It's believed more than 70 players -- or 10 percent -- have suffered them.
There's no way to avoid all concussions in such a fast, physical sport, but Bouchard is glad the NHL's cracking down on head shots and believes all head shots should be eliminated.
"A couple years ago, you didn't hear about a big concern with concussions," Bouchard said. "Even players, your teammates, unless they've had them, I don't think they can understand. I'm sure players have looked at us and thought, 'What wrong? You must be feeling better now.'
"All I can say, 'I don't wish it on anybody.' They don't want to learn what it's like."
Former Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard admits he was one of those teammates. He had concussions before, but never as bad as Bouchard's.
"When you're in the room and they're all messed up, you're like, 'Well, really how bad can the concussion actually be?' That is, until you actually go through it," said Boogaard, who hasn't played a game for the New York Rangers since suffering a severe concussion Dec. 9. "I'm sure there are guys in my locker room now that have thought the exact same thing.
"It's definitely been an eye opener. I've been blown away by it."
Bouchard experienced a never-ending pressure in his head.
"You wished you could do a hole in your head so that pressure could disappear," he said.
Bouchard experienced some depression but was lucky to have a strong support system that included his fiancée, Isabelle, parents, Denis and Johanne, and brother, Francois.
"They couldn't do any miracles, but just being there with a smile and talking to me about somebody else besides hockey and my head made me feel better," Bouchard said.
'The lowest point'
Most think Bouchard's first concussion came in March 2009 when he was checked by then-Islanders forward Nate Thompson. Bouchard says his first concussion actually came in January 2006 when he fell in a game against Colorado and hit his chin on the ice.
The Wild called the injury a strained neck.
"I was out cold for a few seconds, but it took me a week and I was fine," Bouchard said.
After the season-ending concussion against the Islanders, Bouchard now believes he was never fully healed.
"That's why that little head bolt against Columbus [in a 2009 exhibition game] brought back everything and double," Bouchard said. "The symptoms were the same, but it took so much longer to get rid of it. The first few months after were pretty tough. After two or three months, you expected yourself to be feeling good and you're not feeling better.
"That's when I hit the lowest point."
For Bouchard now, that's just a horrible memory, one he hopes to never experience again. That's why he was so cautious and believes all players should be.
"It's your head," he said. "Your head, after your career, you still want to be able to live your life. I feel all that time off has gotten me back to where I am now.
"Now I can try to make the big play again, create or score the goal. I definitely missed it and it's pretty fun to have a chance to do it again."
|Chicago Cubs - LP: E. Jackson||2||FINAL|
|Pittsburgh - WP: V. Mazzaro||4|
|Baltimore - LP: K. Gausman||6||FINAL|
|Toronto - WP: B. Morrow||12|
|Cleveland - WP: Z. McAllister||12||FINAL|
|Boston - LP: R. Dempster||3|
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|Detroit - WP: J. Benoit||7|
|LA Angels - WP: J. Blanton||5||FINAL|
|Kansas City - LP: E. Santana||4|