Hall of Famer Michel Goulet was in the Pepsi Center press box last Saturday, scouting for the Calgary Flames, when Boston Bruins forward Marc Savard took a hit from Colorado Avalanche defenseman Matt Hunwick and went flying into the boards, suffering his second concussion in less than a year. It was also the second time in a week that Savard suffered a head injury. Goulet felt horrible for the Bruins center, who missed the first 23 games of this season with post-concussion syndrome.
Goulet can relate to what Savard has been going through, and the difficult path and decisions he might have ahead, because Goulet went through it himself.
On March 16, 1994 at the old Montreal Forum, while playing for the Chicago Blackhawks, Goulet went head-first into the boards and suffered a major concussion that would eventually end his glorious career. He tried to come back but knew right away it wasn’t going to happen.
In watching Savard this season, Goulet has seen the signs that perhaps Savard will never return to the talented playmaking center he once was. To Goulet, Savard was struggling to keep up with the pace of the game in Denver, and that’s why even a normal hockey play could concuss him.
“Yes, I saw that in him watching him in that game before the hit and other games, and I’ve seen that in other players who’ve suffered concussions and, obviously, with me; I know it happens that way,” Goulet told ESPNBoston.com. “When I tried to come back, it looked like to me ... I had the impression that everything was going 100 miles per hour. And when you look at Marc and anyone else who is going through this or went through it, every one of them, if they’re not fine -- and I don’t think he was, from what I saw even before that game -- you can’t react. You’re too slow and you’re so wide open to get hit again, and you don’t have time to react.
"I think that play that happened to Marc [against the Avalanche], there’s nothing going on there, it’s an innocent play. But he couldn’t even protect himself from that, and that’s how it is for anyone in his situation and was for me. You’re too slow to protect and too slow for the game. And when I tried to come back, the game wasn’t nearly as fast and dangerous as it is now. I’m no doctor, but I’m telling you, I lived this and I could see it watching him.”
Goulet can still recall the sinking feeling of knowing the end could be near and the feeling when it arrived. He sympathizes with what Savard is going through right now as the center rests back home in Ontario.
“When I came back and tried to even skate, I could tell my coordination was totally off and I was like, ‘Wow, what is this about?'" Goulet said. “I mean, I skate and play my whole life and all of a sudden I can’t do it right anymore? It’s a horrible feeling. Now, that being said, my final concussion was a lot more serious, to the point where I literally was told your next step was almost a wheelchair. But you look at that [Matt] Cooke hit on Marc and, yeah, that was really serious, too. I had the hardest concussion you can have, but I can relate to Marc.
"I mean, when I started to try playing again, I knew right away, and it’s gotta be tough for him right now because that’s what he is asking himself, I bet. Even if he tries again, I think, yeah, he can do it for a while, but it will catch up to him. I really feel for him and anyone who has to go through this. It’s sad, and it was hard to see that last Saturday.”
Goulet said it should be all about quality of life right now for Savard. The Bruins have done a great job of understanding that, as they have helped Savard deal with his concussion issues since the Cooke hit. But Goulet believes it is time for Savard to really understand this and maybe decide if retirement may be the best route.
“Even in pick-up games now, I’ll be a bit winded and feel it a bit,” Goulet acknowledged. “It stays with you for life. But you have to ask yourself, 'Do I at least want as close to normal a life as I can get?'
"It’s about Marc and his well-being now. Forget the game for a minute and think about life. It’s hard, but you have to really ask yourself that. I’m sure he will try and come back because this is our job, our passion. But at one point, you look past that, and that’s what I had to do.
"But like I said, everyone is different, too, and maybe he can keep playing," Goulet continued. "You look at [Patrice] Bergeron, and I talked to him when it happened to him [in 2007] and I said, 'Go back when you’re 100 percent and no less, but if you can’t be 100 percent, then you need to think about life.' And that’s how it is.”