WILMINGTON, Mass. — Boston Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton knew something wasn’t right when he started feeling nauseous and light-headed in the middle of a game.
The Bruins were in San Jose on Jan. 11, closing out a three-game West Coast road trip, when Hamilton started feeling those effects and thinking there might be something wrong. That probably seemed a little odd to Hamilton, who had taken a high hit in the previous game against the Los Angeles Kings in the third period but finished and was back in the lineup two days later against the Sharks.
After feeling those symptoms, though, Hamilton knew he needed to be checked out. That’s when he went to the training staff and eventually was diagnosed with a mild concussion.
Hamilton returned to the practice for the first time this week and declared himself “ready to go” following Friday’s practice. Whether or not he’s in the Bruins’ lineup Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers now is up to head coach Claude Julien, who said Hamilton would travel with the team but wouldn’t say when the defenseman would return to game action.
Regardless, Hamilton is just about at the end of a scary experience.
“I wasn’t sure [that I had a concussion],” Hamilton said Friday after Bruins practice. ”I’ve never really had anything like that. I didn’t really know. I played the rest of that [Los Angeles] game and the next game [in San Jose]. So I could still play, but I just didn’t feel right. After the game in San Jose, I didn’t feel good at all, so I kind of knew after that game that there was something more than the usual thing. So that’s when I kind of really realized it.”
Hamilton admitted the concussion was his first. That means it was the first time he’s had to deal with the crippling symptoms, but it also was the first time he’s faced the uncertainty that comes with any sort of head and neck injury. Hamilton initially felt the headaches, constant fatigue and mood swings. Even as those improved, he had to deal with neck and jaw issues.
“It’s just something you want to avoid,” Hamilton said. “I think it’s been kind of stressful with your head. With other parts of your body, you don’t have to worry too much about it. You know it’s going to get better. There’s all those stories of guys with the head [injuries] that are out for a year or two days or whatever, so I think that was kind of a little bit hard at the start. Then it started to feel better, so it kind of helped it in that way.”
That recovery process also is something new for Hamilton. He’s already missed time with a knee injury earlier in the season, but nothing prepares an athlete for the physical and mental toll that a concussion takes. Even once the symptoms start to dissipate, there still are risks to returning too quickly. So while the player might feel better physically, there might be frustration in how slow the process can seem.
“It was pretty tough,” Hamilton said. “The first couple of days were the toughest and [most frustrating]. The headaches and everything started to feel better, but I guess my neck and kind of headaches and when you don’t really do anything for a week, once you start skating again it’s hard to get back into shape. Your legs aren’t feeling too good. I think now I feel pretty good and I feel a lot better about myself. I’m kind of relieved in a way.”
Hamilton’s second NHL season has been a crash course in dealing with adversity. The 20-year-old has found success and relative health for much of his hockey life. In just the last two months, however, he’s suffered a knee injury and the concussion. He was in just his fourth game back from the knee injury when he suffered a concussion. That’s obviously a difficult process to go through, especially as a second-year pro who’s constantly trying to improve, but Hamilton is learning to take things in stride and learn from the experience.
“You don’t want to be injured and you just kind of want to get back into a groove and stuff,” Hamilton added. “Then you’re hurt again, and it’s just kind of frustrating. Hopefully I can get back and get back into the routine and rhythm and everything like that and just have fun again.”