It seems rather unfair, and cruel as well, what Marc Staal has endured these past two years.
Yesterday's detailed revelation of exactly what he's been dealing with since getting hit in the eye by an errant puck on March 5th made me take in all that Staal has endured since suffering a concussion in Carolina all the way back on February 22, 2011.
Of course, not only was Staal concussed in that game against the Hurricanes, but he bore the added weight that it was his older brother Eric who delivered the blow which led to the concussion---which led to an uncomfortable summer in which Staal could not train properly, which led to being shut down during the 2011-12 training camp, which led to the Rangers alternate captain missing the first 36 games of last season. And when he did return it was not until deeper into the playoffs where Marc Staal started to resemble his former All Star self on the ice.
But symptom-free, Staal was playing "the best hockey I've seen him play" post-lockout this season, according to head coach John Tortorella, until a slap shot was deflected up into his right eye in a game against the Flyers at Madison Square Garden on the fifth of March. At that point in the season, Staal had recorded 11 points in 21 games and was once again a defensive stopper on the backline.
Then it was back to wondering if he'd ever play hockey again. And more importantly, wondering how the rest of his life would be affected. Again. Different injury. Similar concerns.
"It was a scary, scary injury," Staal recounted at Monday's breakup day. "It's one of the first things when you're sitting on the (trainer's) table, wondering if you're ever going to be able to see again. I was fortunate that it wasn't worse."
Fortunate it wasn't worse, for sure. But to hear him describe things on Monday, his injury was as frightening as one could imagine. The puck tore a small hole in his eye, to go along with assorted facial fractures. So the reason why he was unable to compete in the playoffs was that when he skated and worked out, pressure built up through that small hole in the eye causing Staal dizziness and headaches and blurred vision. Frightening stuff, indeed.
"From the puck itself I had a little tear in my eye and that was causing the pressure to spike and dip, and I would just get disoriented and the eye would cramp up, and it was tough to get through practice nevermind playing in a game," explained Staal.
Staal did play in Game Three of the opening round series against the Capitals at The Garden---logged more than 17 minutes of ice time, and acquitted himself quite well actually. But then he did not play again the remainder of the post-season.
"After I played, the tear wouldn't regulate properly, so we were constantly changing medications to try and get it settled down, but the next day it just started cramping up," said Staal.
So it was not about adjusting to wearing a visor, or dealing with the bright lights of an arena, which kept Staal out of the lineup after his one-game reentry. It was something more troubling.
However, like there was when he finally put the concussion symptoms behind him, there is a likely positive ending to this story for the embattled Staal. Though he admitted on Monday that his vision likely will never be 100 percent again, he is most definitely getting better---no more reaching for things and missing completely because his balance was so off, for example. And Staal is confident that next season he will not have to answer any more questions about the injury or his eyesight again.
"For everything to get adjusted, I just think time is going to help, and the issues I was having will go away," explained Staal. "My belief is once everything settles down and I get comfortable with it, I'll never have to be asked about it again."
The Rangers nominee for the Masterton Trophy--awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies dedication to the sport as well as perseverance--Staal was not selected as a finalist for this year's Masterton, but he was honored to be nominated. Though with his recent spate of severe injuries, Staal has joked that he is hoping never to be in the position of being nominated again---since this award usually goes to someone coming back from a major injury or disability.
For Marc, and his wife Lindsay, not having Marc endure another physical crisis would be the most welcome news indeed.