Stoll's career on hold because of serious concussion

EDMONTON — Canadian Press

Wait until next year.

As frustrating as that might be to fans of the Edmonton Oilers, it has an entirely different meaning for forward Jarret Stoll.

Out of action since Feb. 1 with a concussion, Stoll has no guarantee there will be a next year.

While Stoll is hopeful he'll be back this season, he understands that his first concussion with the Oilers could be his last.

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Given that there's so many grey areas when it comes to injuries of the grey matter, knowing when, or if, he'll play again isn't as simple a circling a date on the calendar. Far from it.

"It's tough to explain. There's so much uncertainty from day to day," Stoll said Thursday before sitting out his 19th straight game. "There's a time line with a lot of injuries, but with this there isn't.

"I'm feeling better, but there were days the first three weeks when it was the same every day. It crossed my mind, what if this goes on for six months or a year?"

Stoll, 24, believes he sustained his concussion Jan. 18 when he was hit by Samuel Pahlsson of Anaheim. It was a check from behind that pitched him headlong into the boards and broke his nose. Stoll sat out one game, then played four straight before a bump by Kevin Bieksa of Vancouver put him on the shelf with dizziness and headaches. He hasn't played a minute since.

"I think this whole thing is because of the Pahlsson hit," Stoll said. "I didn't feel right playing those four games. I knew I wasn't right.

"I was sleeping a lot at that time. I just thought it would get better, but all it took was a little knock."

Head athletic therapist Ken Lowe, who is also treating defencemen Mathieu Roy and Tom Gilbert for concussions, knows first-hand how difficult recovery can be. There's so many variables.

"You don't know what damage is done," Lowe said. "With a joint, you can test it. With the head, you can't.

"We go by symptoms. How do you feel? Jarret comes in one day and feels great. The next day, he doesn't. We don't want to say, 'Jarret, your season is done.' There's only one person who can say that and it's Jarret."

This season, Lowe saw forward Fernando Pisani return from a concussion, apparently none the worse for wear. He also saw a blow to the head end the career of prospect Paul Comrie. Comrie suffered a concussion in the AHL with Hamilton in 2000-01. He never played again, joining the likes of Brett Lindros, Jeff Beukeboom and Nelson Emerson as players forced to retire.

"We've never changed the 'but rule' here," Lowe said. "If the player says I can play, but, then he can't because there's something lingering.

"We don't want to put him in a position where he can be hurt worse. It's going to be his call all the way."

Stoll, who has 39 points (13-26) this season, has skated half-a-dozen times since the injury. He can go four or five days without serious post-concussion symptoms and feel like he's close to being able to play. Then, a twirl on the blades or a session on the stationary bike will set him back. It's frustrating and frightening.

"Some days I feel pretty good and some days I don't," Stoll said. "A couple times on the ice I've only been able to be out there 15-20 minutes. I'm not even pushing myself to the point I need to where I can think about coming back and I get light-headed and dizzy."

Coach Craig MacTavish would obviously like Stoll back as his team staggers toward the end of the season out of playoff contention, but understands that might not happen.

"I'm a black and white guy, but this is a grey area," MacTavish said. "When you're dealing with injuries to the head, you have to be so cautious. You are going to err, obviously, on the side of caution in these situations.

"The timetable for recovery is all over the map and it almost seems irrelevant to the severity of the blow. You've got to just deal with the symptoms, literally, on a day-to-day basis."

As much as Stoll longs to return, he knows the biggest mistake he can make is to rush back. He won't set the time line. His brain will.

"Coming back too early makes it so easy to get another concussion," Stoll said. "I don't need another one. For the risk of what?

"I can't say yes or no. I'd rather get some good training in this summer and work on what I have to work on and come back refreshed. Why risk it?"