Even though his club lost Friday night in his first game in five months -- Idaho earned a 4-3 win -- Alaska Aces winger Tim Hall was a welcome sight in the lineup last night at Sullivan Arena.
Five months had passed since he played a game, and his comeback after a concussion was a long, slow process he endured with patience and hope. That's why it was extra special that he was so good Friday, when he furnished two assists and his coach, Rob Murray, called him the best Ace on the ice.
Hall, a rookie who joined the Aces last season after finishing up at Colorado College, absorbed a brutal hit to the head from Las Vegas captain Mike Madill in the preseason opener -- Madill got a match penalty and, subsequently, a one-game suspension.
Hall played the first two games of the regular season, but he didn't feel well, and he was soon shut down. And we don't mean he took a few days off. He was shut down, literally spending much of the next three months in the dark -- dark rooms, no TV (supposedly, as we will see), no loud noises, no reading, none of the stuff that can torture a person with a concussion. When he was finally cleared for exercise around New Year's, it was limited to 30 minutes of walking a day. That's not much for a professional athlete, and it tells you how bad off Hall was.
"I'd sneak a little TV with my roommates (Garry Nunn and Jordan Kremyr) to keep myself sane,'' Hall said.
Hall said the support he received from the Aces organization was professional, and caring.
"The doctors and the coaching staff have been amazing,'' he said. "I never felt pressured to come back early.''
When Hall did get back in a game -- Friday, after missing 63 games, and this from a guy who never before in his career missed more than two straight games -- he was stunningly sharp. No rink rust on him. He had those two assists, used his speed and tenacity, and seemed to do something productive virtually every shift.
"I think it started with a new attitude, watching the NHLers (on the Aces during the lockout) when I was out and watching older buys like Steve Ward and Sean Curry, and how they prepare for everything,'' Hall said. "It's so much about focus and hard work that goes into even something like a game-day skate.''
A player coming back from a concussion always wonders how he will hold up when he finally gets hit, or delivers a hit, in a game. Hall said he threw a check on a Steelheads player along the boards early in the game and skated on feeling fine.
"Everything was good,'' he said.
Of course, he also prepared himself for contact.
"I was nervous for it,'' Hall said. "Before the game, my preparation was, 'Head on a swivel at all times, head on a swivel at all times.' ''
That will likely be his mantra for a while, and in a game as fast and physical as hockey, it's a good one to always have.
Anyhow, really good to see Hall back, which only strengthens the Aces, and really good to see him play so well in his return.
It was a long time coming, and no one knows that quite like Hall.
Doyle Woody, firstname.lastname@example.org