EL SEGUNDO, CA - It's been a steady, patient process for Loui Eriksson, coming back from his second concussion sustained on December 7, but the Bruins winger has been cleared for contact.
"He's feeling good, he's been cleared for contact, now it's just a matter of time of him working through that and getting himself back in the lineup," Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said following the team's practice at Toyota Sports Center outside Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon.
Eriksson hit the ice in a gray jersey, shedding the green no-contact jersey. It marked eight days since he first started skating with the team on December 31.
It's now been a month since he suffered his second concussion in 45 days. He first came back on October 23. He missed just under two weeks out of the lineup then. This time, he's missed 14 games out of the lineup, and won't be ready to return to game action just yet.
"I'd say probably doubtful for [Thursday against LA]," said Julien. "It's his first day with contact, and having been through what he's been through, I don't think you want to rush him too much."
"He's got to be confident that he can take a good hit and stuff like that, so today was a good first practice there, five-on-five, a little intense, so that's what he kind of needs right now."
Though he'll still need more practices, Wednesday was a significant step for Eriksson.
When reporters gathered around to speak with him following practice, for the first time since the concussion, his teammates made light of the situation.
"Loui's available," they shouted. And when the cameras were turned on, with the lights shining down, the smiling winger made light of it, too.
"It's definitely a good feeling to be back at it, and do some contact today in practice," said Eriksson.
"It's nice to get back and see all of the guys and be around all of the guys on the road here too, it's nice to do that, and we'll see how long I have until I play a game, but I definitely feel good, I've been doing a lot of conditioning and stuff so I've been feeling good now for over a week."
"I did the impact test [Tuesday] and everything went well, so I'm good to go; I'll get practices here and get ready."
Looking back, though, when he first suffered the concussion against Pittsburgh on December 7, just 21 seconds in that game, that good feeling was anything but. He wasn't even able to come to the rink until December 16.
"I was really frustrated right after," said Eriksson. "It's just not fun to get another one and get that feeling in the head and not be able to play, so it was definitely frustrating and hard to be in that place."
The first couple of weeks felt like the first concussion, with headaches and slowness.
"Yeah, it wasn't fun in the beginning, but this time, it took a little bit longer. I've been taking my time this time," he said. "When I'm ready, I want to be ready full and be healthy and be back."
Eriksson had no loss in memory from the hit and the aftermath that has kept him out of the lineup for more than a month. Since Christmas, he's been feeling better, first getting back onto the stationary bike, before beginning skating.
Patience has been the key, with Eriksson's well being the main focus.
"It's something that you have to take in, and maybe not get ready too fast after a hit like that," said Eriksson. "I want to be able to be around for a long while after my career is done here with playing hockey, so it's definitely something you have to take care of."
"You always take care and look after the guy's health first and foremost, and his well being, before you look at bringing him back into your lineup," said Julien.
"That's the way we've always operated here anyways, and I think that's important. Not only that, but you're allowing him the proper time to heal and also, psychologically, you want him not to go in there apprehensive. You want him to feel 100 percent, and that's what we're going to allow him to do."
"I think he's been getting pretty close, he's been feeling good now for a while, and now being cleared, it's just a matter of taking that next step."
Once the winger get integrated back into the lineup, he'll have less than a month before joining Sweden on their Olympic squad for Sochi. While there could be concern that the rest might be more important for him, Julien is actually viewing it much differently.
"I think for him, playing is probably better for him, because he has been out for such a long time - so I'm not sure he wants to sit put for a couple of weeks," said the B's bench boss. "So it's probably a good thing for him to get that opportunity and play at a high level, and get his game going, and to where we know we can bring it, and to where he feels good about it, so I don't think it's a bad thing right now."
"I don't think we've even seen the best of him yet. He's never had a chance to get his game going and he's had some setbacks there with those concussions," said Julien, of Eriksson's game.
"So I think we're going to see a better player here if he can stay healthy as we move along. I think that's what people need to realize; there's a lot of his game that we have yet to see, and we'll see more and more."
"Everyone around it has been really good and patient, so that's been really helpful too for me," said Eriksson. "I'm just happy to be back here again and practicing."
"Big day for you, Loui," I said as the small media scrum broke apart. "Yeah," he looked up, flashing his smile, and nodding. "It's nice."
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