After being struck in the back of the head by one of the NHL’s hardest slapshots, Phillip Danault feels fortunate to be nearing a return to game action.
“I got lucky there,” said Danault on Monday following his first team practice since the injury. “Unlucky, but really lucky at the same time. It could have hit me in the jaw, so it could have been way worse. I could have not even been here today maybe, so I’m lucky to be here, and happy to be 100 percent.”
A Scary Incident at the Bell Centre
Danault was injured against the Boston Bruins on Jan. 13 when he was hit by a Zdeno Chara one-timer. Unable to move out of the way in time, Danault immediately fell to the ice holding his head before being attended to by members of the Canadiens medical staff. The 24-year-old remained conscious during the incident and said that he remembers everything. After missing the past 12 games with vertigo and concussion-like symptoms, Danault has not been cleared to return just yet but he accompanied the team on their four-game road trip.
Danault was appreciative of the support he received from friends and family as well as Canadiens fans during his recovery.
“I had so much love from the fans and family and friends. I really appreciate that,” said Danault. “I’m going to give my 100 percent for the fans just for that. They give me so much love so I’m going to do the same for them.”
They were not the only ones in Danault’s corner after his scary injury. Chara, a controversial figure in Montreal for reasons other than just playing for the Bruins, was visibly concerned after the play and made sure to reach out to Danault following the game.
“I really appreciate Chara,” said Danault. “He came to see me on the ice, so it was a big moment for me and I appreciate that. He texted me [after the game]. For me, that’s a big leadership move. In hockey, we have a competition level during the game but when something like that happens, everyone regroups, so it was a big moment.”
Danault’s Much-Needed Return
Danault’s pending return could not come at a better time for head coach Claude Julien. With limited depth at centre, Julien has been forced to use wingers like Paul Byron and Charles Hudon down the middle, something that has not fared so well.
In games with at least three faceoff attempts, Hudon and Byron have won just 37 percent and 31 percent of their draws, respectively. While each player had previous experience at centre, neither looked comfortable in the role. With Julian preaching that the players should not over-chase the puck, winning faceoffs is crucial which makes Danault an important member of the team.
“We’ve missed his experience at centre,” said Julien on Monday. “Behind [Tomas] Plekanec, he’s probably our second-best player on faceoffs. He’s a good young player who we see a lot of potential in. It’s never good to see your players get hurt, especially when you need them.
Whether or not he sees game action on the upcoming road trip, Danault is just happy to be back in his normal routine alongside his teammates.
“We’ve been looking forward to this road trip all year long,” said Danault. “First game in Vegas, it’s going to be fun. I look forward to playing as soon as possible.”
The Canadiens face the the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday before matchups versus the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday, and the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb 20.