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Blues' McDonald picks health over style

DENVER -- A handful of reporters and broadcasters are gathered around Andy McDonald's locker at the Pepsi Center quizzing him about his new helmet.

It's a model pioneered by Hall of Famer Mark Messier expressly to add additional protection against concussions and other head injuries.

"It's a little heavier than what I was wearing," McDonald explained.

The shape is slightly more round to accommodate the additional padding that is supposed to help protect against concussions, something McDonald knows all too well having suffered two serious ones in his career.

It makes the 33-year-old native of Strathroy, Ontario, look a little like the Great Gazoo from "The Flintstones" and there is some good-natured ribbing about whether the look is a good one for McDonald.

"It feels pretty good, I think I'll stick with it," he said. "I don't know if it'll pass the mirror test."

Still, when you haven't played since Dec. 4 and you're trying to get your head back in the game both literally and figuratively, you're willing to sacrifice a little style for maximum self-preservation.

As for the kibitzing in the dressing room, well, that's been a long time coming, too, for McDonald.

The morning skate in Denver on Monday marked his first workout with the rest of the team, and the soft-spoken McDonald is clearly thrilled to be back.

"It's nice to have some company," he said.

Nice to have a goalie to shoot at and teammates to pass the puck to outside of trainer Ray Barile.

"Not that he doesn't pass the puck well," McDonald added.

Unlike too many players suffering concussions this season, McDonald's wasn't the result of a dangerous play but a mishap. He lost an edge and his head hit an Edmonton player's knee or skate.

The results were the same, though, the uncertainty and isolation no different than what David Booth, Marc Savard and others have endured.

"Pure frustration," said McDonald.

Now he has been cleared to practice with the team, it's a matter of getting his timing and conditioning back. He lost six or seven pounds off his already diminutive frame while he was out, so he needs to bulk up a bit as well.

And of course he must remain symptom free.

"This is the next step," coach Davis Payne said before the Blues were clipped 4-3 Monday night by the Avalanche.

"Every day's a test," he added. "Everything's been positive. That's progress."

But McDonald is close. At least he hopes he is.

But he understands the cruelty of the concussion, of not knowing just when all will be right.

In this very arena two days earlier, Savard was taken hard into the boards and is now out again with another concussion.

It's not surprising that McDonald has noted the other injuries around the league and how the league is handling the issue of concussions. But he also added that he tries not to pay too much attention to it, focusing on his own situation.

Certainly, the Blues will welcome McDonald back at the earliest opportunity, likely after the All-Star break this weekend. They have been without key personnel all season, have won just twice in their last 11 games and are rapidly sinking out of sight in the Western Conference playoff race. McDonald, who won a Stanley Cup in Anaheim before being traded to St. Louis, had 17 points in 25 games for the Blues before the injury.

"I try not to set myself dates," McDonald said. "It's not a decision that will be made just by myself."