There may not be another player in the NHL who loves being around the rink as much as Jakub Voracek.
Even in the first days of his recovery from a concussion he sustained Nov. 4 in Finland, the Columbus Blue Jackets forward could often be found sitting in the stands or lingering on the bench as his teammates practiced.
"He loves it," coach Brad Larsen said a few days later. "You talk to him, his passion’s infectious. He loves to practice. He loves to be around the rink. He loves to be around the guys. You miss his presence because he loves to compete.
But Voracek's presence waned as his symptoms continued, and Monday morning, he acknowledged that his days of competing may be over. He made it clear that he's going to try to return, but if he is able to get back on the ice, it won't be soon, and there's a "very slim" chance he plays again this season.
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"I’m going to make my best efforts to try to do that," Voracek said. "But it might be a long process. As of now, I don’t see myself playing in the near future. But like I said, I’ll do everything in my power to try to get back on the ice. I had a lot of head injuries in the past, and that’s something I have to think about and be smart about."
Seven or eight concussions
Voracek remembers seven or eight documented concussions over his 15-year career, and the total number is likely higher. He's been on the receiving end of several massive hits, including one by Niklas Kronwall in 2012 that resulted in the fencing response — an unnatural, instinctive extension of the arms after a head injury — and sparked debates about high hits in the NHL.
The hit that caused Voracek's latest concussion appeared minor in the moment, a high stick that caught him across the bridge of his nose. He finished the game, but his symptoms began the next morning. Voracek is keeping the details of symptoms to himself, but he immediately had a conversation with director of player development Rick Nash, who retired in 2019 as a result of lingering concussion symptoms.
"We had a conversation about it and I felt like I was speaking to the same person," Voracek said. "We both had the same ideas or same opinions on those things, what I went through with my concussions and what he went through with his concussions."
Over the course of his career, Voracek said the decision to return from each concussion was always up to him — and he always wanted to get back on the ice as soon as possible. He was emphatic that he doesn't regret those decisions.
"Especially as a hockey player that is used to playing, you do everything in your power to get back on the ice," Voracek said. "Sometimes, maybe especially when you’re young, you miss that judgment. All those decisions, how soon I was coming back or when I was coming back out of those concussions, they were all up to me. I always felt like as soon as I get on the ice and try to live a normal life and try to be part of everything that I’m used to being part of, it’s going to go away. For the most part, that’s how it was.
"Unfortunately, especially with the last one, that’s not how it is. Now I have to find a way to live a normal life. ... I knew what I was doing and everything was up to me. I don’t regret that."
Voracek puts emphasis on recovery from concussion, focusing on family
Voracek said he's currently able to live a normal life away from the ice with his longtime girlfriend and three children. He wants to protect that quality of life, which is a large reason why he's putting an emphasis on his recovery.
"I got hit a few times pretty badly over my concussion past," Voracek said. "I’m kind of worried that if that would be the case eventually, what was going to happen to me, if I would be able to get up out of bed in the morning. ... With my head injuries in the past, it’s pretty serious to take a look at. Just make sure I consider all my options for my future. We’ll see where it’s going to take me."
Asked if he'd be at peace if he could never return to hockey, Voracek said he's not thinking about that right now. He attempted to project optimism, several times referring to his contract that doesn't end until after next season.
But for a player who has spent every possible minute at the rink over his career, loving nothing more than being on the ice and spending time with his teammates, it isn't hard to see the signs that he knows those days might be done.
"It’s really hard for me to judge it, because I still have a contract this year, I still have a contract next year," Voracek said. "There’s a lot of time to recover from that. Usually, I wouldn’t say I’m a sentimental person that gets stuck on things if I can’t do them.
"If people tell me I’m not allowed to, then I just move on and do something else. I think that’s the right approach for me right here. We’ll see what the future holds."
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Blue Jackets' Jakub Voracek out long term in concussion recovery