The Province

Baertschi seeks concussion clarity

Canucks winger experience­d setback in recovery when he stepped on the ice Nov. 17


This was the easy part for Sven Baertschi.

Amid a smattering of supporters at a promotiona­l event Sunday, the Vancouver Canucks left winger looked and sounded good. He was in his element educating the faithful on challenges facing the rebuilding NHL club and how he plans to play an integral role in mentoring an emerging younger core. That’s the hard part. Baertschi hasn’t played since suffering a concussion Oct. 24 in Las Vegas. He endured a significan­t setback Nov. 17 — experienci­ng symptoms including sensitivit­y to light and dizziness — while skating to elevate his heart rate in the next recovery phase.

The 26-year-old native of Bern, Switzerlan­d, who signed a three-year, US$10 million contract extension July 1, has had five career-related concussion­s and is wary of the cumulative effect of and susceptibi­lity to repetitive brain bruises.

It’s why Baertschi is flying to Detroit on Monday to meet with Michigan-based neurologis­t Dr. Jeff Kutcher. The head trauma specialist has assessed 150 NHL players and the U.S. ski teams at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and recently helped Thatcher Demko and Antoine Roussel overcome concussion­s.

“I’m looking for clarity,” said Baertschi. “He’s got a good understand­ing of how much you can take. If it takes me another month to recover, but I’m 100 per cent, that’s good. We have to be patient.”

Last season, Baertschi missed nine games with a concussion from a Feb. 7 hit from enforcer Cody McLeod. He also suffered a concussion with the Abbotsford Heat in 2012 when he was sent crashing into the boards. And he had another nearly a year earlier at the world junior championsh­ips.

“This one feels different,” Baertschi said. “The others were more whiplash and the neck, and once the neck was good, I started feeling better. This one is more visual problems and I feel like it’s more connected to the brain.”

Baertschi had his back to Golden Knights forward Thomas Hyka while taking a pass. He was hit hard, dropped like a rock to the ice and you could tell something was wrong.

“He hit my shoulder and slipped off and hit me in the head,” Baertschi said of the unpenalize­d play. “Did I like the hit? No. He had a chance to avoid me, but the game is fast and things happen. I don’t think he wanted to hurt me, but something didn’t feel right.

“I got a headache and got dizzy. I pulled myself out and knew I had to stop and get checked out, And it just got worse and worse the next few days and I’ve been out ever since.”

Even when Baertschi followed the proper post-concussion protocol — slowly returning to the gym and riding the bike to get his heart rate up — he ran into a recovery roadblock on the ice.

“You’re turning and you’ve got the puck and the lights are bright and it just kind of flooded my system,” he said. “The twisting and turning affected my eyes and I knew it wasn’t the right time yet. I’ve been back in the gym and doing workouts and trying to get back to it.”

It hasn’t been easy. Baertschi is trying to balance the drive to reward franchise faith — he suffered a fractured jaw, concussion and separated shoulder last season and was limited to 14 goals in 53 games — with the need to rationaliz­e his recovery. He not only got married in the off-season, his wife, Laura, is expecting the couple’s first child in April.

“You look at it a little differentl­y,” he said. “You’re less rushed personally to get back. You have responsibi­lities off the ice and you want to be there for people. It’s been tough mentally, but it forces me to learn things about myself.

“I’ve got to dig deep right now and figure out a way to stay positive. If I’m being negative, I’m not going to get healthy. But it’s time to focus on myself and kind of be selfish and make sure I get the right treatment.”

And to also understand you can only control so much. Last season was a litmus test.

Baertschi suffered a broken jaw on a clearing attempt by Mark Giordano on Dec. 9. He would miss 11 games, then scored four times in his next 16 outings. It was at that point — with the Canucks having lost five of six games — that Travis Green sat Baertschi on Feb. 15 in San Jose.

Baertschi sucked up the demotion and scored in two of his next three games. Then came the Feb. 7 concussion before his season ended March 5 on a hit from Alexei Emelin that separated his shoulder. Amid all that, he was still on pace for a 21-goal season.

“It’s been terrible,” Baertschi said of the run of bad luck. “What are you going to do? Things happen. That last few years it’s been one thing after another and freak injuries and a shoulder separation that was just dumb and unnecessar­y.”

 ?? JASON PAYNE/PNG FILES ?? Vancouver Canucks winger Sven Baertschi has been out of the lineup since suffering a concussion Oct. 24 in Las Vegas.
JASON PAYNE/PNG FILES Vancouver Canucks winger Sven Baertschi has been out of the lineup since suffering a concussion Oct. 24 in Las Vegas.

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