Wild’s Ballard still out with concussion, uncertain of future

Wild defenseman Keith Ballard was placed on injured reserve in December and the team has said he is out indefinitely with concussion symptoms.

Brace Hemmelgarn/Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Following an overnight stay in the hospital in December, Minnesota Wild defenseman Keith Ballard was allowed to go home, his face showing the effects from a dangerous hit the night before in a game.

Ballard had suffered another concussion and multiple facial fractures. He returned home to his family.

"It was tough; I mean, just coming home and my face is pretty smashed up and seeing my kids again," Ballard said Monday in speaking with reporters for the first time since the Dec. 9 hit from New York Islanders forward Matt Martin. "After everything, I was so out of it for the first week that I don’t really remember. It was kind of a blur. I sat on the couch and didn’t do much."

Ballard’s health has improved, though he still deals with concussion symptoms. Concussions have been a part of the story for the 10-year NHL veteran who also starred at the University of Minnesota. Ballard, 32, has suffered multiple concussions.

The recurrence has left Ballard to think about his life post-NHL. He wants to be a good father to his children and knows a time will come when he’ll have to make a tough decision about continuing his career or being healthy for his family.

"It’s still more important to me than playing hockey," Ballard said. "I’m not going to make that decision right now. I’m going to let this play out and see how I feel and hopefully things clear up and I can get back and play.

"But like I said, if it’s a choice between trying to stick it out and play and maybe say you’re feeling well and you’re not and getting hit again and just deciding it’s time to be done, then I guess that’s a decision for down the road. But that’s something I’m going to think about."

After playing all 82 games four of his first six NHL seasons, Ballard hasn’t played more than 65 games each of the past four seasons. He was placed on injured reserve in December and the team has said he is out indefinitely. Ballard, who said he didn’t need surgery, isn’t sure if he will be able to return this season, or at all.

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"His presence has been missed, that’s for sure," head coach Mike Yeo said. "The left shot, the skating mobility, the veteran aspect, he’s an important part of our locker room and a very vocal guy inside the room. So, we’ve missed having him around. It’s definitely nice to see him here and hopefully he can get better soon."

Ballard said he didn’t remember the play, but he’s since seen video of the incident.

In the neutral zone, Ballard had dumped the puck and turned away from Martin coming in for a check. Ballard went head-first into the boards near the opponent bench and also appeared to hit his head on the ice. He was motionless for a while and later appeared to be convulsing while being attended to by medical personnel.

Martin wasn’t penalized on the play and didn’t face supplemental discipline from the league.

"I think I was in a bad spot, regardless," Ballard said. "I dumped the puck and he’s playing on the other side of the ice and he comes all the way over to finish his check, which I understand that. Guys like that, that’s what they do. For me, I was kind of trying to side-step it and he moved right with me. It’s unfortunate."

Ballard had one assist in 14 games this season. He missed time earlier in the season with the mumps.

With health a concern again, Ballard will be faced with a decision later.

"Not ready to make that decision right now," Ballard said of thinking about his career. "I’ll make it if I get to that point. I might not have to make it, depending how long these symptoms last, but you definitely think about it."

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