By Kyle Kujawa –
After finishing the 2010-11 season with his lowest professional goal total since his first season, Chris Minard began looking towards this season as a chance for redemption.
Unfortunately, his brain had other ideas.
Minard was signed to a two-year contract by the Detroit Red Wings in July of 2010 for his ability to put the puck in the back of the net. That was something that the Owen Sound, Ontario, native was known well for at each stop of his career; he once led the ECHL with 49 goals in 69 games for the Alaska Aces. In 2008-09, he scored 34 goals in 54 games for the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins – a pace of 50 goals. Twenty games spent with the NHL parent club prevented him from hitting the mark.
In his first season with the Griffins, Minard had just three goals by the time the calendar rolled over to 2011. It wasn’t until the second half of the season that his game rounded into form – his 15 goals in the final three months of the season put him back on the 30-goal pace he was more accustomed to.
Looking to continue that clip this season, Minard felt a sinking feeling as training camp rolled near, when concussion symptoms from a vicious hit suffered years ago started to come back to him, and it became obvious that he would not be ready for the start of the season.
“As the days went on, it just didn’t get any better,” said the 30-year-old winger. “You just start to worry about it all.”
While playing with the Springfield Falcons in 2009-10, Minard missed over half the season with a severe concussion that felled him in October. He came back in mid-January, and after initially struggling to regain his form, he produced 18 points in the team’s final 12 games, going pointless in just one contest. His success even earned him a five-game stint with the Edmonton Oilers in March.
Although his play would have suggested he was able to get over the injury, the headaches, blurred vision, nausea and memory problems returned to him over the summer, and kept him out of the lineup for the Griffins’ first 36 games.
“You just have to see the right people and the right doctors and have faith in what they’re telling you,” said Minard. “You have to try to stay as positive as you can.”
In the end, his patience paid off. Minard, who was never far from the locker room over the first three months of the season, was cleared for skating in December. After dozens of practices where Minard stayed on the ice long after his veteran teammates had left it, and even a few skates on his own while the team was on the road, he made his season debut on Jan. 15 at Charlotte.
“I got really excited that day,” said a usually straight-faced Minard, who cracked a smile recalling the game. “Playing in that first game was pretty emotional for me. There was a lot running through my head.”
While that was a comeback inspiring enough for anyone, scoring two big goals two nights later was another memory Minard won’t soon forget.
“There were moments where I didn’t think I’d ever play again,” said Minard. “Obviously, scoring that first goal meant a lot.”
The veteran forward hasn’t stopped there. While he admits that at times he can still feel the rust, Minard tallied five goals in his first eight games of the season. He exploded over the Griffins’ recent homestand which featured three home games in three nights. He tallied five goals and two assists over the three games, including a hat trick on Feb. 12 versus San Antonio.
“I’m playing with good players,” said Minard. “When you get a chance to play with the guys that can make plays, you just go to the net and shoot the puck as hard as you can when it comes to you.”
After the initial adjustment back into the lineup, Minard is finding that the game he missed hasn’t changed at all.
“I don’t think it feels any different,” he said. “I notice myself not going into certain areas sometimes, thinking about it a little too much. You just can’t think about it, that’s how you get hurt. You just have to sacrifice your body and know that not every hit is going to hurt.
His arrival is perfectly times for the Griffins. The team has been among the AHL’s strongest offensively – their rising goals-per-game average is the best in the entire Western Conference. They’re hoping that Minard’s presence can jump start the power play and sneak them into the postseason.
“Staying healthy is my main goal. I want to contribute as much as I can and help the team make the playoffs.”
Now healthy and back to playing the game he’s dedicated his life to, it’s apparent that talking about the concussion isn’t Minard’s favorite topic. The issue of headshots and concussions has been discussed at length at all levels of hockey, but Minard isn’t sure if the problem has been addressed.
“I don’t know, to be honest with you,” said Minard. “Those hits don’t deserve to be in the game. The guys are skating too fast these days and there’s no hooking and holding like there used to be. It happens a lot, and it’s scary.
“I don’t want to see anybody going through what I went through, that’s for sure.”