No quit in Dave Bolland, Blackhawks
Center's triumphant return from concussion should energize team for uphill battle ahead
CHICAGO -- Dave Bolland is one of the lucky ones, more fortunate certainly than Sidney Crosby, who is still waiting to be medically cleared, hoping at some point to join the Penguins in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Bolland didn't know if he'd be cleared either, and thought seriously about shutting it down for the season nearly six weeks removed from a concussion that sidelined him for the final 14 games of the regular season and the first three games of the playoffs.
It wasn't just a matter of the headaches and nausea and "general fuzziness," to quote Bolland. The Chicago Blackhawks center, essentially on orders to stay inside, was holed up in his house.
"You get," he said, "a bit of depression. I stayed in my house for 2½ weeks. I was not going out, I wasn't seeing anybody. ... I really feel for guys who get these."
You think not going outside for a walk was challenging? The doctors also told Bolland to not send text messages. Bolland, who suffered a hit to the head on center ice in Tampa on March 9, failed a medical test just a week ago and he wasn't cleared to play until Tuesday morning. He was still suffering the symptoms of being concussed.
With his Blackhawks down three-games-to-none to the No. 1 seed in the entire Stanley Cup playoffs, the Vancouver Canucks, there were those who were screaming Tuesday that Bolland, bless his heart, simply shouldn't play. Down 3-0, why risk it? Suppose he got hit again? He went from not skating to skating a little bit.
"Being out a month," Bolland said, "you lose your energy. ... You lose your everything."
He didn't even fantasize Game 4 would turn out the way it did. OK, perhaps even through a pounding head he could see his Blackhawks winning, but probably not 7-2 with six of those Chicago goals coming against Vancouver's Roberto Luongo. And certainly Bolland couldn't see himself registering four points, including a goal, and doing so well on the Sedin brothers, Henrik and Daniel, maybe the NHL's No. 1 and No 1A most valuable players.
"I didn't think I was going to have this kind of night," Bolland said afterward, "but it turned out kinda nice." It turned out that way quite possibly because the Blackhawks were beyond thorough with treating and dealing with Bolland, who credited the team's physician, Dr. Jim Gary, with helping appropriately scare him.
"He sat me down," Bolland said, "looked at my face. ... He grabbed me and put some sense in my head." Dealing with concussions is a scenario playing out in all too many locker rooms these days, especially in the NHL. Every morning you can view the NHL highlights and find somebody going upstairs for a violent hit to the head of an opponent. One active player I talked to Tuesday night heard some comments I'd made in recent weeks and cautioned me to not hold the league more responsible than the players themselves. Even at its most contentious, he said, players would have to treat one another with at least a professional respect that has become absent from today's game.
Bolland is of the same opinion.
"There's got to be something done over the summer," he said, "or guys are going to be done for their careers. We've got to look at it this summer."
Before then, however, players are going to have to deal with the consequences of this headhunting and the very necessary medical processes that might not let them back on the ice. Bolland described failing his test a week ago as "heartbreaking."
"I've seen guys fail that test before," Bolland said. "They're devastated. You don't know whether you're going to get back out there. ... I had symptoms, and if you're not symptom-free you can take a little bump and be back off the ice. There was a time I didn't think I'd be coming back. I thought I could have been done for the season."
Instead, Bolland was a huge part of the Blackhawks extending their season, at least until Thursday in Vancouver when the two meet for Game 5. The defending champs have every reason, after chasing Luongo on Tuesday, to feel that they're back in this series.
History has proven that in the NHL, more than in any other league, teams that fall behind 3-0 in best-of-seven series can come back. The Philadelphia Flyers did it just last year. While it's never happened in the NBA and only once in MLB, Philly was the third team to do it, and several others have come back to force a 3-3 tie. Look, Vancouver is clearly the best team in the league entering the playoffs while the Blackhawks are essentially building for the future, having had to tear up their championship team last summer for those well-chronicled salary cap reasons. Still, the Blackhawks were encouraged after Game 4, having hung a minus-3 on Henrik Sedin and a minus-4 on his brother Daniel.
"Bolly gives us some juice, some energy, going against the top two guys in the league," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Quenneville also properly downplayed any notion his team had turned around the series, what with Games 5 and 7 to be played in Vancouver. But down 0-3, you look for signs of life where you can find them, and where better (and more symbolically) than a valuable player who doesn't give up on the season even if he had every reason to be overly cautious, who could have taken the conservative approach and protected his own health, his own career, and simply sat out what the less optimistic expected to be a meaningless season-ending game.
Bolland assisted on that first goal less than two minutes in and the Blackhawks, in short order, were revived, at least for one night.
As Bolland stood at his locker and slowly explained his ordeal, he appeared none the worse for wear. And if he can return congratulatory text messages and simply have a walk around the block now, then maybe there's more good news awaiting him and his teammates Thursday night in British Columbia.
Michael Wilbon is a featured columnist for ESPN.com and ESPNChicago.com. He is the longtime co-host of "Pardon the Interruption" on ESPN and appears on the "NBA Sunday Countdown" pregame show on ABC in addition to ESPN. Wilbon joined ESPN.com after three decades with The Washington Post, where he earned a reputation as one of the nation's most respected sports journalists.