For a while there, it seemed like Marc-Andre Bourdon fell off the radar. Out of sight, out of mind. And then, suddenly, there he was at the Flyers morning skate two Sundays ago. His return was a surprise to everyone, including his teammates. He's back, he's feeling good, and he's ready to compete.
Bourdon played his last game with the Flyers on April 7, 2012 and his last game with the Adirondack Phantoms on November 30. That night, against the Binghamton Senators, Bourdon sustained a concussion that would sideline him for about fourteen months.
It was not the first concussion that Bourdon had suffered while with the Flyers organization. He dealt with one during the 2011-2012 season, the first in which he played at the NHL level, but did not tell anyone for fear that he might lose his position in the lineup.
“My career was on the upswing and I was getting to the NHL, that was my goal, and I didn’t want to lose my spot,” he told reporters on Sunday afternoon. “I think everybody knows the story. That’s all the past for me.”
Bourdon’s play declined that season thanks to his feeling dizzy and disoriented due to a hit he took in February of 2012, and the Flyers eventually wound up trading for Pavel Kubina and Nicklas Grossman before the deadline to boost their depleted blue line. Soon, Bourdon was sent down to the Phantoms to make room for the new defensemen. Interestingly enough, had Bourdon not kept his symptoms to himself, the team would not have been allowed to send him down to the minors. Keeping that secret not only cost him a spot on the roster, but also $4,019 a day (his NHL salary vs. AHL). Clearly, the money did not matter to Bourdon -- he just wanted to keep his job.
Past health issues were a large reason why Bourdon’s second concussion of the season was so severe, and why he dealt with symptoms for so long afterwards. In September of 2013, while rehabbing, he told reporters that he’d broken his lower back when he was younger, and neurology specialists realized that aftereffects of both injuries - the concussion and the broken back - were inter-related.
“All the vertebra are related in the back. My [cervical] vertebra are not moving very well around my neck and head. I get all kinds of headaches from that, too. We’re working on that.”
Bourdon knew at that point that he was still nowhere near ready to return, thanks to the dizziness and headaches that were still prevalent and that he had not been medically cleared because of them. Still, with his competitive spirit and his love for hockey driving him, he pushed himself as much as he could while rehabbing and saw several doctors throughout his recovery time so that his symptoms could heal sooner rather than later.
For the last two months, Bourdon has been working with Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher and his team in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and credits their efforts for the progress in his recovery.
“There were six people following me all the time,” he said. “There was a guy I worked out with, two therapists, a guy for my neck, spine and pelvis, the main doctor and a massage girl. They did tremendous work. I was wondering when it was going to happen. I’m thankful to every doctor and the Flyers’ organization that did everything in their power to get me back.”
The Flyers announced on January 20 that Bourdon had been loaned to the Phantoms to begin his fifth season of professional hockey. Since then, he’s appeared in two games and tallied two points and 10 penalty minutes, recording assists in back-to-back games. He got off to a shaky start in his first game back with a turnover and an issue with a broken skate, but after a quick trip to the locker room, he was good to go.
"It was a lot of mixed emotions," Bourdon revealed after the game. "I didn't know what to expect. I've never missed that long. After the first two shifts I was like, 'Well, it's going to be a long one.' Then me and (Steven Delisle), we came back stronger. He was talking a lot to me and helping me out."
The Phantoms will take on the Hartford Wolf Pack tomorrow night, where Bourdon will continue to do all he can to get back to the NHL level. If he flourishes during his comeback (and a two-game point streak is a good start), there might be a shot for him to get called back up to the Flyers, especially with all of their defensive struggles.
It seems that Bourdon would be happy playing anywhere, though, now that he is healthy and able to do so after being away from the game for so long.
“I’m thankful to God to get me to Michigan because it didn’t just improve my hockey, it improved my life in general,” Bourdon said. “I thank God every day for that. I’m really grateful that I can have a good life and be back to hockey and just try and make my way back up.”