By Mary Paoletti
The first concussion came in October of 2007. It was frightening the way he hit the ice.
He returned to his team, only to be hit again. He ended up sitting out more than half the year.
To see him go down yet another time was a nightmare. It was the 2011 playoffs. The score was tied, 1-1, and the tension was palpable when he took the blow. Teammates, coaches and fans couldn't help but think of his history. "No, no. Not again," they murmured, hands over their mouths.
Simon Gagne and Patrice Bergeron have too much in common.
Bergeron, of course, was concussed -- for the third time in his NHL career -- in Game 4 of this year's Eastern Conference semifinals. Claude Giroux laid a shoulder hit to Bergeron's head that sent him flying backwards to the ice. The score was tied 1-1. Everyone who saw him kneeling on the ice feared for his future because of his past.
Gagne's past is, unfortunately, eerily similar.
Bergeron was first hurt in October 2007, when he was thrown headfirst into the boards and received a Grade 3 concussion that caused him to miss the rest of the year. Gagne also received a concussion, his first, in October 2007 when he was playing for the Philadelphia Flyers. He missed four games, returned, and suffered another concussion on Nov. 7. This one precipitated a 26-game rest. First shift back? Say goodnight, Gagne. The third hit, by Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal, was the KO blow. Post-concussion specialist Dr. Jim Kelly advised Gagne to stay off the ice for the rest of the season. Kelly's diagnosis revealed not three concussions, but one that never healed.
Bergeron's second concussion occured in December, 2008. His third came last week against the Flyers.
Gagne, now playing for Tampa Bay, got dumped into the boards by Washington's Scott Hannan during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals . . , with the score tied, 1-1. He missed the remainder of the series.
Here's where the Bruins hope the GagneBergeron comparison continues to hold. Gagne only missed three games, and should be back in the lineup for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
"It is not like I had in the past. It is not like a concussion," Gagne told NHL.com. "I hurt myself and I felt really good after -- it was nothing like, no symptoms that was equal to a concussion, so that was a good sign.
"That's why I am back that early on the ice. I was feeling really good soon after it happened, so that's why I'm not worried about that type of injury like I had in the past. It is not the same thing."
Bergeron has been diagnosed with a concussion, so his return date is still up the air. He didn't practice Friday morning and still needs to get through a mandatory seven-day symptom free wait before resuming physical activity.
But, like Gagne, the Bruins are hopeful this injury isn't as bad as the ones in the past.
Hes improving. He really is improving. We're optimistic about that, coach Claude Julien said after Friday practice. We knew he was going to miss the start of the series, but how much of it hes going to miss we cant tell you right now.
Hes on the right track. Were just staying positive."
It can't be easy.
These playoffs have been spectacular; five Game 7s have been forced and 20 games have gone to sudden-death overtime. Nobody wants to see the excitement tempered by any kind of injuries, concussions least of all.
Happily, Simon Gagne's worry was brief this time.
Hopefully, Patrice Bergeron's will be, as well.