It’s been about nine months since Joel Perrault played competitive hockey, battling post-concussion syndrome since the second of two concussions suffered during the 2004-05 season with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks.
The former fifth round pick thought he was ready to play again this summer, and started working out. But at training camp in Anaheim, just the physical contact of playing a scrimmage brought all the symptoms back. He had to sit out for another three months.
Perrault’s symptoms included headaches, severe fatigue, trouble sleeping, nausea, and his whole left side was numb for a long time. “It was pretty bad,” he described. But he never lost memory or consciousness.
“That was the only positive sign,” he said. “It’s probably the worst injury you can have when you’re a hockey player.
“They took care of me pretty well because they don’t want to put me on the ice too soon,” he said of Anaheim, Cincinnati and Portland, Anaheim’s new AHL affiliate. “It can be very dangerous, you have to think about your health first.”
Concussions were a new thing for him, the two last year were his first. “And hopefully my last two,” the 22-year-old said, managing a smile. Both were the result of hits.
“The first one was I think a bad hit, boarding. It shouldn’t have happened. The second one was a good hit, I just hit my head on the boards. Just bad luck.”
These 10 months have been a very trying time for him, unable not just to play hockey, but unable to do many things most people take for granted.
“With a concussion you’re not allowed to do anything,” he recounted. “I played golf in the summer because I felt good then. But the last three months I haven’t done anything. You become almost depressed because you’re not allowed to – it sounds stupid, but just go for a beer with friends. You can’t even watch movies, read. You don’t feel good afterwards. And maybe it will take more time to come back [if you do].”
The Montreal native was getting down with holidays approaching and going a bit stir crazy.
“After two months in Portland, I asked my coach and my trainer if I could go home for two weeks. Just get away from all these things — I had to watch practice and games every day. So you see all your friends have fun and have to sit out and not do anything,” he described. “So I went home for two weeks and saw my family, my brother and friends. When I came back after those two weeks, I felt way better than I had. I had some treatments at the osteopath. That helped because my neck was pretty sore too.”
Perrault also saw chiropractors in Cincinnati and Portland following both concussions, which he said helped a lot.
“There was a misalignment in my neck with my third vertebra, so I think that caused me a lot of headaches,” he said.
He’s participated in full practices with Portland for two weeks, then was assigned to the Augusta Lynx of the ECHL this past weekend for conditioning.
“When I came back on the ice two weeks ago, I felt pretty good,” he described before Augusta’s game on Sunday. “I was obviously out of shape, but my shape is coming back and I think the three games here are going to help a lot.”
Augusta, while not an official affiliate of Anaheim, has two other players under Anaheim contract, forward Joel Stepp and goaltender Michael Wall, and is the team forward Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau joined for conditioning recently after a wrist injury.
“My first period of my first game, I was very tired,” Perrault recalled. “The second period was a little bit better, and the last period I felt good.”
Centering a line the included B.J. Gaustad and Anthony Battaglia, Perrault wasted no time at all getting back to his familiar place on the scoresheet, putting up four goals and two assists in six games. He played the point on the power play, and went into traffic willingly. Best of all, he seemed to be having fun.
It’s not a stretch to think he can get back to how he was doing in Cincinnati last year before the concussions. He finished with 28 points in 51 games.
“I had a very good start,” he said of the 2004-05 season. “When I got hit my first time, I was the leading scorer for my team and I had a lot of ice time. Everything was going well. It was a big year for me, the second year of my contract, the lockout too. I was pretty pumped up for the next season – this year – but it took a different way. I have to go this way now and work hard.”
Part of his hard work will be toning up after not being able to do much physical activity. Listed at 202 pounds, the 6’2 Perrault accurately describes himself as a ‘skinny guy.’
“My weight’s around the same, but I lost muscle and I gained a little bit of fat. I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to gain a lot of fat, so maybe a month of working out in the gym. I have to mix losing a little bit of fat and still skating – that’s more important than being in the gym. Right now I’m just focusing on my game and I’m going to get in shape pretty quick.”
All that’s left now is proving that he’s fully recovered by getting back to his previous production.
“I know that organizations don’t like when their players have concussions because it’s pretty dangerous. It put me under a lot of pressure when I was not playing because it was my last year, I was anxious. ‘Am I going to play again this year?’ ‘Am I going to have another contract?’ But now, I’m just trying to have fun. We’ll see what happens. If I re-sign, it’s going to be awesome. But I have no control over that. I just want to get into shape, have fun, come back in Portland and have a good end of the season.
“There’s 30 teams in the league and hopefully at least one will like me.”
Recalled to Portland on January 9th, Perrault will pick up where he left off in the AHL on January 11th as the Pirates take on the Manchester Monarchs.
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