SAN JOSE -- Dan Boyle was back in the saddle Saturday night for the Sharks. Of course, in hockey, the saddle is a bit more perilous than the usual saddle.
The hockey saddle, among other things, includes large men on skates who are out to commit violence. Which explains why Boyle missed the previous seven games before Saturday. He'd spent a night in the hospital after being knocked unconscious on the ice.
That was only 18 days earlier. Is that wise? From hospital bed to power play in less than three weeks?
"Taking more time off is probably what my wife and mother want me to do," Boyle said Saturday morning, when asked how his family is feeling. "But I've talked to who I needed to, and gotten the answers I needed to get."
He meant the doctors, the experts, the medical people. And so, yes, Boyle was back in uniform against the Phoenix Coyotes at faceoff time, ready for whatever came his way. Curiously, he hoped it would be a collision.
"I think that first hit, or being hit, giving a hit, will be pretty important," Boyle said. "I think the hit, mentally, will be more beneficial than anything else."
This is a relatively new part of sports, this business about trying to figure out what's prudent and what's stupid when it comes to concussions. Fans are trying to deal with it, just as coaches and players are. Given Boyle's situation, were Sharks fans supposed to cringe Saturday when he was either being hit or was hitting someone? Or were the fans supposed to cheer?
Boyle seemed to come down on the side of cheering.
"I think it's important to get involved with physical play early," Boyle said, "and try to put that image behind me."
The image was pretty horrible. In our new era of concussion awareness, most of the attention has gone to football. That's understandable, given the sport's greater popularity and participation levels. But the brain-injury landscape in hockey is just as brutal.
Witness the Boyle concussion. If you missed it, please do yourself a favor. Do not call up YouTube and watch the hit. It was one of the more frightening sights in sports this year.
"I've seen it," Boyle said. "But I don't remember it. I've seen the replays. It's not good."
It happened in St. Louis on Oct. 15. Maxim Lapierre of the Blues slammed from behind into Boyle and sent his jaw directly into the area where the boards meet the glass.
Boyle was out on his feet, even before he slumped to the ice. His body was limp, his arms and legs not moving. A stretcher was hauled out. He was strapped in and rolled off to an ambulance. He didn't fully regain consciousness until sometime on the ride to the hospital, even though as the stretcher was leaving the ice, Boyle waved his right hand slightly, in an apparent salute to the crowd.
Lapierre was suspended five games for the hit, a woefully slight punishment. Boyle left the hospital after that one night and returned to San Jose, then rejoined the team in Boston to begin skating again Oct. 24. He has taken maybe a dozen hits in practice but only one or two regular-season-type hits. He has been itching to get into a real game.
"I was pretty lucky, to be honest with you," Boyle said. "To be where I am, in comparison to where I was, I'm fortunate. Hopefully, there's no long term or short term or any lingering effects."
Uh, yes. But even with the improved concussion science that exists, there are times when you wonder what we still don't know.
Boyle is no dummy. He has a college degree from Miami (Ohio). He's had only one other official concussion in hockey, 10 years ago, when he played for Tampa Bay. He missed four games that time. He has followed the medical protocol after this concussion, comparing his memory with the baseline tests he took a while ago.
It's far different, Boyle said, from when he first broke into the league in 1999.
"Guys used to have concussions and not miss a shift," Boyle said. "Now they make you leave the bench go into a room for a while and be examined."
You do want to believe that the paradigm has indeed changed. But then you look at the ice. There's crazy stuff going on in the NHL. The season is barely a month old. But there already have been 17 players suspended for questionable hits, including the preseason. Not all have resulted in concussions. But several have.
Why is that happening? No one is certain. Are players lacking respect for each other? Has all the talk about concussions somehow put the notion of creating more concussions into more players' heads? That does sound nuts. But does anyone have a better answer?
At least no one is laughing off concussions anymore. So there's that. And at least Boyle is back in uniform. When he came off the ice at the SAP Center after Saturday morning's practice skate, he was surrounded by media members for the first time in awhile.
"I feel special again," he joked.
Let's hope he is not this exact kind of special ever again.
Contact Mark Purdy at firstname.lastname@example.org.