Not Playing Is More Painful Than An Injury
Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 12:27 PM / Features
By Mike Doyle - Managing Editor
Everyone in the NHL plays hurt.
The season is too long and the game is too physical for a player's body to make it through the year unmarked. It’s the nature of the game that makes players play through pain that would keep most people from getting out of bed, going to work and sitting at a desk all day.
However, there are times when attempting to play through an injury would hurt the player and his team, and, thus, the player has to be held out of the lineup. This is the difference between an injury and being hurt. In hockey, if you’re hurt, you can still play; if you’re injured, you can’t. I can’t tell you how many times in the locker room I’ve heard the question, “Are you injured or are you hurt?”
The Wild has had to battle through a multitude of injuries this season. And for a player, there is nothing worse than being held out with an injury.
As a junior at St. Cloud State, I separated my shoulder and sat out for six weeks – an eternity in college hockey. There are not many things more painful for an athlete than suffering an injury, but it’s the pain of not playing that overwhelms the sting of the injury.
When you’re sidelined with an injury that keeps you off the ice and out of games for an extended period of time, it’s easy to feel like you’re lost on an island. On practice days, when your teammates are in the locker room getting ready to skate, you are in the training room getting treatment. When the team is on the ice, you’re in the weight room rehabbing. After practice, when the guys are hanging out in the locker room and joking around, you've already hit the showers and left the rink.
Game days are not much better. You come in for the morning meeting, but they don’t have the same gravity as when you’re not in the lineup. Instead of going through the pregame rituals that helps a player focus – meal, nap and getting to the locker room early – you sit around watching ESPN or playing video games.
Worse yet is when the team goes on the road. You’re stuck at home and all your buddies are gone. It’s like hearing about the best party that you decided to skip because you didn’t feel like staying out late.
“Dude, you missed the greatest night ever! Wayne Gretzky was there and pouring everybody drinks!” Only, when you’re injured, you don’t get a choice of going out or not.
When you’re out, and the team is winning, you feel like they don’t need you. When you’re out and the team is losing, you feel obligated to push yourself to come back, and maybe too early.
Mikko Koivu has been skating with the team and looks poised for a return. However, he plays a physical, two-way game and upper-body strength is a big part of his game. Do we all want him to return as quickly as possible? Of course we do. But, it is important not to rush back from an injury and risk re-aggravating or possibly causing permanent damage.
The mental part of returning from an injury can be as important as the rehab. When you’re out for an extended period of time it’s easy to lose focus, to get down on yourself and wonder if you’ll be the same player as before the injury.
It’s hard to imagine what Guillaume Latendresse, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Jarod Palmer are dealing with right now. All three have missed considerable time with concussions. Not much is know about concussions, and one of the reasons they are so scary right now. With most injuries, there is a process. You get evaluated. Do you need surgery? Do you just need rest and rehab? Doctors can estimate a timetable because they’ve dealt with a separated shoulder or a blown-out knee. Concussions are evaluated case-by-case. Everyone is different and a doctor can’t tell you if you’re 100 percent or not.
Possibly the worse part of sitting out is when fans or teammates speculate about your toughness or commitment to playing. The term ‘Pulling the Chute’ (or ‘cord’ as in parachute cord) is an obscenity in hockey locker rooms. It signifies that the player is soft or not willing to play because he is scared.
However, most hockey players would punch their way through a few brick walls lined with asbestos to play. The culture of the sport is to be tough, and playing hurt is part of the game. No one wants to sit on the sidelines and watch. That’s why sitting out and missing games with an injury often hurts more than the injury itself.