Wild defenseman Keith Ballard, talking publicly for the first time since suffering a concussion and three facial fractures Dec. 9, acknowledged Monday that he may contemplate retirement once he is symptom free.
A husband and father to two children, Ballard wants to be healthy in his post-hockey career. He said though there’s no use deciding on his future now because he’s still experiencing symptoms from yet another concussion in his 10-year career.
“I’m not ready to decide that stuff, but knowing what we know about concussions, I have to think about the long-term,” said Ballard, a Baudette, Minn., native who played on two Gophers national championship teams. “I’ve had three in 14 months, five in five years, not to mention all the times you get hit and say, ‘I’ve got my bell rung,’ and you’re dizzy for a period. That happens probably a lot more than people know.
“I have to think about the long-term effects, but again, I’m not ready to make that decision yet. But answering it honestly, yeah, I’m going to think about it.”
Last month, Ballard was frighteningly checked face-first into the top of the boards between the benches by the Islanders’ Matt Martin. A bloodied Ballard fell to the ice and began convulsing as medical trainers, doctors and paramedics rushed to his assistance. It was the latest in an unlucky, injury-plagued two-year Wild career.
Ballard didn’t need surgery, but he said it was tough “coming home and my face is pretty smashed up and seeing my kids again. I was so out of it for the first week, it was just kind of a blur. I sat on the couch and didn’t do much.”
He has watched the replay.
“The after part was kind of scary,” Ballard said. “I was in a bad spot. I think I was in a bad spot regardless. I dumped the puck and he’s playing on the other side of the ice and he comes all the way over to finish his check. Which I understand that. Guys like that, that’s what they do. For me, I was kind of trying to side step it and he moved right with me.”
Because he is still experiencing symptoms, Ballard said he hasn’t exercised since other than taking walks. In May, after Ballard missed a playoff game out of precaution because he was hit hard by Chicago’s Brandon Bollig, Ballard talked about his future. He wants to make sure he’s healthy and can remember his kids’ names 10 years from now.
He reiterated that Monday, saying, “That’s still more important to me than playing hockey. But I’m not going to make that decision right now. I’m going to let this play out and see how I feel. Hopefully, things clear up and I can get back and play.
“But if it’s a choice between trying to stick it out and play and maybe say you’re feeling well when you’re not and getting hit again or just deciding it’s time to be done, that’s a decision for down the road. But it’s something I’m going to think about.”
The 2002 Buffalo Sabres first-round pick has 38 goals and 175 points in 604 NHL games with Phoenix, Florida, Vancouver and Minnesota.
• Trying to keep up his fitness, center Mikael Granlund (wrist surgery) skated after the Wild practiced Monday. He is wearing a soft cast and hopes to return later this month.
• Winger Brett Sutter, who missed the past two games with a stomach bug, returned to practice. Center Tyler Graovac was reassigned to AHL Iowa.