Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Looking back and forward after Backes’ latest concussion battle

Matt Kalman
November 05, 2018 - 3:05 pm

After a couple practices with the Bruins, forward David Backes returned to the lineup Saturday in Nashville after missing five games with the third concussion of his Boston career.

He logged 13:17 of ice time in a 1-0 loss to the Predators, enjoyed having Sunday off (although his kids’ sleep habits were thrown off by daylight savings time) like the rest of his teammates, and then reported to the rink for the morning skate in preparation for a home game against Dallas on Monday.

The hit he took from Matt Benning in Edmonton on Oct. 18 may have forced Backes to spend some time away from the rink, but it didn’t push him to make any Rick Nash-level decisions about continuing his career.

“Haven’t got to that point. I’m still enjoying the game and being around the guys and doing what we do,” Backes told after the rest of the media cleared out of the Bruins’ dressing room at Warrior Ice Arena Monday. “Is there going to be long-term effects? Hopefully not. But if you’ve got that answer for me and could tell me, then I can make an even better decision.

“But I don’t feel like I’m cognitively impaired at all from the contact I’ve taken. I’ve been given some recommendations dietary-wise, being cognitively active while you’re playing, after you’re playing, are all things that help you out. And we’ll deal with what we’ve got, I guess.”

Although it’s never surprising to see players miss games because of head injuries, this time around Backes’ absence was startling because he actually returned and played four shifts in each the second and third period for a total of 6:28 of ice time against the Oilers.

“I didn’t really have symptoms. I had neck soreness but I had had neck soreness for a week from the hit [in the game] here against Edmonton [on Oct. 11],” Backes recalled. “So I had normal, if there is such a thing, [soreness] and I’ve had enough concussions to know what my normal symptoms are.  That didn’t occur and I was in there for the rest of the first period and it was my first shift of the game. So a lot of time had gone by and those didn’t happen, so I returned to play and was fine.”

Backes’ decision to return to the game against the Oilers wasn’t his alone. He recalled that he took the SCAT3 exam, was able to repeat back six numbers in reverse order and then remember 10 words 10 minutes after he was told them (although he thinks he got nine out of 10 correct). Backes gave full kudos to the Edmonton doctor for his professionalism working with an opposing player.

Even the next day in Vancouver, with the Bruins enjoying an off day, Backes had no inkling what would await him the day after at the rink. The 34-year-old routinely goes through a mental checklist running down all his potential ailments and passed his own assessments.

“Yeah, I mean you’re doing self-analysis all the time,” he said. “You might be able think about everything that goes on, right? Blurry vision? Am I more irritable, am I more emotional, did I sleep well last night? Am I sensitive to light, am I sensitive to noise? That guy clicking something back there is kind of making me mad. All those things start to ... you get a little ultra, I’d say, sensitive to that. Which, I don’t know, a normal day I have a few of those things.

“But then just the morning skate all of a sudden, it was like I don’t feel right and we need to be cautious with this and take our time.”

At the morning skate Oct. 20, things went “downhill” after Backes got his heart rate going and the post-concussion symptoms he had been looking for over the two days prior hit him. He was sent home and entered the concussion protocol, which entails going a certain number of days without symptoms and then passing some mental and physical tests.

He didn’t skate again until Oct. 27, practicing with the team for the first time two days later.

So Backes’ storied career, 866 NHL games and counting, carries on. He’ll continue to add to the information he’s accumulated from the league and doctors about head injuries and their symptoms, and he’ll continue to analyze everything he does and how the his environment affects his well-being on a daily basis.

“Yeah, talking to the smart people there’s probably a point where exposure is excessive, but I haven’t been told we’re pumping the brakes yet,” Backes said. “So I’m going to keep playing hard.”