BOSTON — Marc Savard rejoined his teammates on the ice for Saturday's morning skate at the Garden, but his presence was felt even before the team started its drills.
"He got cleared yesterday to practice with us, and that was reinforced this morning by hearing him chirp in the dressing room," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "[That's] something we hadn't heard in a few months. So obviously he's back to normal.
"He's definitely happy to be back and we're happy to have him back," added Julien. "A happy Savvy is usually a good Savvy, so hopefully he keeps going in the right direction here and we get him back with the team in a game capacity sooner than later."
Savard was definitely in good spirits on Saturday, a marked improvement from his last meeting with the media back in September when he discussed his ongoing struggle with post-concussion syndrome symptoms, including depression.
But after being cleared to practice, albeit without contact for now, Savard stated he felt "fantastic," and added that "for about 2-3 weeks now I really haven't felt any ill effects and things are headed in the right direction, that's for sure."
Being able to skate in line drills with the rest of the squad on Saturday was the biggest step yet for Savard in his long road back to playing.
"It felt unbelievable," said Savard. "It's been a long time and it was pretty special to make this step. Hopefully I'll gradually get better and go from there."
Savard still has to pass one more test next week to be cleared for contact, then he'll need to work on his conditioning and get back into game shape.
"I'll keep practicing," said Savard. "Obviously it's non-contact for me right now. I have one more test to go see another doctor. Once that's all done it's just get back into contact, get into practice speed so I can get ready for games.
"I think I'm still a little behind training camp," added Savard of his conditioning. "I've still got a ways to go, but I've come a long way."
Savard has indeed made great strides in recent months after the return of post-concussion symptoms this summer had him questioning whether he'd ever return.
"It was really tough," said Savard. "I wasn't really sure about my future in this game. It made it tough, but my teammates were incredible. [They] texted me all the time, telling me to hang in there and they want me back. That's been a big help."
Savard also credited Julien and general manager Peter Chiarelli for their patience in giving him time to heal and no pressure to rush back, as well as teammate Marco Sturm, who has been rehabbing from knee surgery alongside Savard. Sturm also joined the team in the morning skate for the first time on Saturday.
Savard was also buoyed by the support he's received from fans.
"The fans have been great," said Savard. "I've gotten a lot of really nice letters that have really helped me through this time and I appreciate that stuff."
Still, despite all that, Savard still had his doubts about returning.
"I needed to understand that was just the way I was feeling," said Savard. "You think it's maybe that you didn't want to play, but this is the game I grew up playing and I love. I think that love went away for a bit because I wasn't sure about anything. Obviously now that I've had time to heal I can't wait to get back out there with the guys and play some games."
Savard is also pleased to see he'll eventually be returning to a team that's off a strong start this season. The Bruins' success has helped him be patient in his recovery, and he isn't worried about fitting back into the lineup.
"I think there's a couple areas I can still help a bit," said Savard. "But it's great to see the guys playing well. I think that's been the easiest thing for me is to have the time to get better and work on the stuff I need to work on and clear my head so I'm ready to go. The way they've been playing is fantastic and hopefully I can just fit in quietly and go about what I do best and just help the team win."
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