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Saturday, January 21, 2012
Marc Savard's life still unsettled

By Scott Burnside
ESPN.com

BOSTON -- In many ways, the face of the concussion is elusive, shadowy.

We heard earlier this week about Chris Pronger and the days of trauma and turmoil in the Pronger household from Pronger's wife, Lauren.

We get periodic updates on Sidney Crosby and his visits with concussion specialists in his ongoing efforts to get back to the ice. But Crosby himself remains silent.

But on Saturday, in a quiet room at TD Garden, the face of the concussion comes clearly into focus. It is the face of Marc Savard and it is a stark, unyielding visage.

It was one year ago Sunday that a hard hit from the Avs' Matt Hunwick in Denver left Savard with another concussion after having missed time during the 2009-10 season after being laid out by a blindside hit courtesy of Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke. Savard did not play again last season, forced to watch from afar as his teammates won the franchise's first Stanley Cup since 1972.

On this day, he is in Boston to formally dedicate a suite he has purchased at TD Garden for children who suffer from brain injuries and their families that will be available at every home game through the end of the 2013-14 season.

Savard, 34, talks about being happy, but it is clear that happiness is a relative term for a man who, at the peak of his game, was one of the best playmakers in the NHL.

He sees his three children, two boys and a girl who range in age from 8 to 11, pretty much every day.

The oldest, Zach, 11, understands that his father can't play anymore, but the younger two sometimes ask when they're going back to Boston and see their dad play.

"I'm not sure they totally understand," Savard said.

He helps out coaching his son's hockey team with a good buddy, spending some of his long days planning practices.

"It helps to occupy my time," Savard told ESPN.com.

Beyond spending time with his children, who live with his ex-wife about two minutes from his home near Peterborough, Ontario, the youth games are also a way to keep Savard at least peripherally connected to the game.

Yet even at the local rink, Savard cannot escape the almost constant reminders of what his life has become, what has been lost and what might never be recovered.

"If I get on the ice, I'll go home and feel like [crap]," Savard said.

If he yells instructions to his players, his head aches and he sees dots from the exertion. He has to be careful standing on the narrow bench because his balance is out of whack.

His short-term memory is also ragged.

"I wasn't a guy that forgot too much and I seem like I'm forgetting my phone at home," Savard said. "I took my son to a game the other day and I left the keys in the ignition of the car. Turned it off, at least, but went in to watch the game and I was like, 'Geez, where are my keys?' And I went out to the car and they were in the ignition."

Even simple things like the change in weather can leave Savard feeling out of sorts.

"The weather changes we've had in Canada this winter & cold, hot, rain, snow, it kind of gave me a lot of headaches," he said.

Although Savard seems pleased to be able to return to Boston and to give something back to a hockey town that embraced him, he understands that a return to the game is unlikely.

"Right now the way I'm still feeling and the daily issues I'm having, I mean it's tough to see a bright future right now, to be honest with you," he said. "It's a day-by-day thing still. I'm still hoping that something happens that I'll feel a lot better. But if I feel like this, I still couldn't play."

Gerry Barker has known Savard since Savard was a teen hockey phenom in Eastern Ontario. The two have remained good friends through the years, and Barker recently spent time with Savard at a youth tournament in Ottawa.

He sees a man who is struggling to figure out how this is all going to play out.

"His short-term memory is very, very poor. I still see him struggling to remember things," Barker told ESPN.com.

Even the relatively simple events of a youth practice leave Savard exhausted.

"It's like he needs a pregame nap and a postgame nap," Barker said. "He just looks tired a lot."

Savard, an avid golfer, smiles as he recounts winning his club championship last summer. He cannot walk the course, so he used a cart affixed with a special orange flag that allowed him to drive right up to the edge of the greens to cut down on the walking.

"Yeah, the guys were giving it to me about that," he said.

Shortly before he returned to the ice last season, Savard talked about his struggles with depression related to postconcussion syndrome. He said Saturday that those issues seem to be under control now.

Marc Savard
Marc Savard's problems started after a blindside hit by Matt Cooke.

"I've got no issues on the depression side," he said.

Barker said he's seen a positive change in that area as well.

"I think he's in a much better place. He's been able to work to identify all the symptoms," Barker said.

Savard's eyes are red, whether from emotion or weariness at the exertion of travel and meeting with reporters. Even at that, those who saw Savard at the beginning of the season on one of his rare trips to Boston say he looks better now.

Savard worries about his weight and he grins when it's suggested he's going to look like a sportswriter if he keeps packing it on.

He insists that in spite of everything, he has no regrets.

His name is on the Stanley Cup. He has a ring.

Those are not insignificant things for a hockey player.

But truthfully? It's hard to look at Marc Savard and not feel more than a little sadness at the hand fate has dealt him.

"That's what worries me for the future, forget about playing hockey, but is he going to able to function as a normal adult," Barker said.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.