Originally created 02/04/05

Lynx forward makes return after injury



He sat around while his teammates bonded during practice.

He stayed home while his teammates bonded on road trips.

He watched with the fans while his teammates bonded during games.

This was not how forward Jarrett Thompson had planned to spend his time when he agreed to return to the Augusta Lynx in May. But it was how he spent most of the past two months.

"I'm still part of the team," Thompson said, "but in a way you kind of feel like you're outside the team. So, it's tough."

Thompson spoke those words after he spent a Jan. 13 practice on an exercise bike instead of on skates.

Now, three weeks later, Thompson will play a game at Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center for the first time since suffering a concussion there during a Dec. 4 game against the Louisiana IceGators.

THE COMMON DEFINITION of a concussion is "something that disrupts the brain function for a bit of time without causing gross structural damage," said Dr. William Roberts, who is an associate professor at the University of Minnesota and works with youth and high school hockey teams.

Concussions usually occur when a player suffers a direct blow to the head, hits his head on something or receives a blow to the body that jolts his head, Dr. Roberts said.

Symptoms can include disorientation, loss of memory, headaches, nausea and dizziness, and those symptoms usually intensify when the player's heart rate is elevated. Thompson's concussion came from a blow to the head that left him so dazed he couldn't skate to the bench and out of harm's way.

Instead, his hockey instincts took over and he went for the puck, only to get hit again.

Trish Leslie, a certified athletic trainer and the Lynx's head trainer, saw the initial hit on Thompson from the Lynx's bench.

"I knew right away something was wrong," Leslie said.

Thompson finally made his way to the bench after the second hit and he, too, knew something was wrong.

"I just wasn't there," he said. "I just wasn't myself."

Though he had suffered a concussion about a year earlier, Thompson held out hope that it wasn't a concussion this time, that he wouldn't have to go through the recovery process again. But it was; and he did.

Rest is the best remedy for a concussion, and it would take seven weeks before Thompson could rejoin his teammates in a game.

Doctors say players and coaches have long underestimated the seriousness of the injury - even Dr. Roberts played hockey with a concussion while he was in medical school.

"I would never do that now," he said.

Dr. Robert Gambrell, one of the Lynx's team doctors, said awareness has improved in the past five years. Coaches and players have learned more about the injury and have seen players whose careers have been cut short after suffering multiple concussions.

Lynx coach Stan Drulia witnessed the evolution of how concussions were treated throughout his playing and coaching careers, which have spanned about 15 professional years. He guesses he suffered at least a dozen concussions while he played.

Early in his career, Drulia heard, "Grab an aspirin and you're OK."

While playing for the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning toward the end of his career, Drulia suffered a concussion from a hit by Vancouver Canucks defenseman Ed Jovanovski.

When he woke up later in the training room, the only thing he knew when he came to was that it was his birthday.

He didn't play again for six weeks.

THERE IS NO set recovery time for athletes with concussions. It varies from athlete to athlete, concussion to concussion.

"That's one of the most frustrating things with concussions," Leslie said. "The time frame is one of the least predictable of all injuries."

Thompson returned from last year's concussion about four weeks sooner than he returned this year. Lynx defenseman Steve Munn suffered a concussion last year when he played for Atlantic City and was out for less than two weeks. Forward Matt Dzieduszycki suffered one last year in the American Hockey League and said he was only out five days.

The first step in the recovery process is for the athlete to become asymptomatic while doing no physical activity, Dr. Gambrell said. Next, the athlete starts light cardiovascular work.

Leslie had Thompson ride an exercise bicycle to get his heart rate up. But sometimes that would lead to a dizzy spell or a headache.

"As soon as that happens, I've got to stop, see how I feel the rest of the day, see how I feel when I wake up the next day," Thompson said. "If everything's good, then I can try it again. If I'm not feeling that good the next day, then I take that day off. It's just a long process."

On-ice conditioning with assistant coach Chuck Weber got sprinkled into the off-ice work once Thompson felt up to it. Drulia brought Thompson on their road trip from Jan. 16-23 in order to keep his rehabilitation and conditioning on track. The third-line forward saw his first ice time in seven weeks Jan. 22 against Texas.

"It felt good," he said a few days later. "I was excited to get out there."

He again saw limited ice time Jan. 28 and was slowly working his way up to regular playing time.

Then, Thompson's number got called a little sooner than expected. Forward Todd Bennett suffered a concussion during the Lynx's Jan. 29 game, leaving the Lynx short a forward for Tuesday's game.

So Thompson played a regular shift.

"I had to jump right in and it felt like I didn't miss a beat," said Thompson, who even assisted on King's game-winning goal.

Tonight will be the 100th game of Thompson's professional career. He's scheduled to play back-to-back games for the first time since the concussion.

When he skates out for introductions before the game, Lynx fans will finally get to see the answer to the question they asked Thompson so many times, "When are you going to be back?"

But more than anything else, Thompson is a part of the team again.

"The biggest thing I found I missed was just being in the room during intermission, during the start of the game, being on the bench," Thompson said. "It was better than sitting in the stands by myself."

Reach Kristy Shonka at (706) 823-3216 or kristy.shonka@augustachronicle.com.

Augusta Lynx Gamenight

Florida Everblades at August Lynx

Where: Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center

Radio: WRDW-AM 1630

Webcast: www.augustalynx.com

Tickets: Available at the door, by calling (706) 724-4423 or by going online at ticketmaster.com

This season: The Lynx evened the series at 2-2 with a 4-2 win against the Everblades on Tuesday in Estero, Fla.

Scouting the Lynx

COACH: Stan Drulia

RECORD: 15-23-5, tied for 10th in the American Conference

Key player: Defenseman Rod Sarich scored twice in Tuesday's game. He has four goals and eight points for the Lynx this season.

Scouting the Everblades

COACH: Gerry Fleming

RECORD: 22-14-6, 3rd place in the American Conference

Key player: Rookie goaltender Terry Dunbar made his ECHL debut Tuesday, giving up three first-period goals before settling down behind a solid defense. The Everblades were forced to sign Dunbar when both Craig Kowalski and Rob Zepp were injured in the same game last weekend.

- Kristy Shonka