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Canucks’ Travis Dermott faces long road back from concussion

"You just want to be back playing hockey again."
Vancouver Canucks defenceman Travis Dermott played just 11 games in the 2022-23 season after suffering a concussion during a preseason practice.

Travis Dermott was the first player Patrik Allvin ever acquired as general manager of the Vancouver Canucks. He was meant to be part of the plan for retooling the Canucks’ defence corps to make it younger and more mobile.

Now Dermott just wants to play hockey again.

The 26-year-old defenceman suffered a concussion during a preseason practice. What initially seemed like a minor injury ended up costing Dermott almost the entire 2022-23 season.

“It was definitely pretty scary but I didn't feel that terrible that night, so I wasn't that scared about it,” said Dermott at the end of the season. “But these things are pretty wild how they unfold.”

"You've got to take your confidence and ego out of it and just take care of yourself."

The Canucks were appropriately cautious with Dermott’s return, keeping him out for three months, then slowly bringing him up to speed with a conditioning stint in the AHL. When he returned to the Canucks’ lineup, he played 11 games with seemingly no issues but he was quietly struggling the entire time.

Ultimately, Dermott made the decision to pull himself from the lineup. It wasn’t because of a further injury or even a major incident that caused his concussion symptoms to return. Instead, he just knew that something was wrong and that he was putting himself at risk.

“It's pretty hard to pull yourself from games at that point because it's nothing glaring that you can't push through,” said Dermott. “But your play is crutched so hard when you're feeling that way — that you're not feeling fully safe out there. You can't make the plays that make you the hockey player that you are. It comes to a point where you've got to take your confidence and ego out of it and just take care of yourself.”

Dermott felt that his awareness on the ice was compromised, making it tough for him to check his blind spots. It forced him to be overly cautious on the ice and limited his ability to retrieve and breakout the puck.

“You get a little tunnel vision when something in this upper region doesn't feel right or isn't moving right,” said Dermott. “As I've come to learn — it's like I'm a neck pro now — you've got a bunch of systems that work together and if one of the systems is telling the other systems some mixed information, then everything can kind of fall apart.”

"We've got a new plan and I feel good about it."

The scuttled return to play forced Dermott and the Canucks to reevaluate his treatment for his concussion and take a longer view of his recovery. He was in good spirits as he prepared to head off for the summer with a new approach.

“Obviously, we had it a little bit off,” said Dermott. “I felt good enough and I felt confident that I felt good enough, but it obviously didn't work. So, we just had to take a couple of steps back, took a little bit of a different approach, took some different opinions from different people and just put everything together. Now we've got a new plan and I feel good about it.”

One of the biggest challenges for Dermott’s recovery is that was difficult to know how his body would respond to actual game action. There’s nothing quite like taking to the ice at full NHL speed with opponents looking to plaster you into the boards at every opportunity.

“I think that's why I'm so optimistic about my new approach,” said Dermott. “Because the old approach was not really bringing on symptoms. I was definitely making stuff stronger in the rehab that I was doing, but I wasn't really getting any symptoms in the gym or while I was doing my rehab. Then, when I went on the ice, I'd have some symptoms and I was trying to work through my symptoms strictly on the ice. 

“But my new regimen's bringing on symptoms off the ice so I'm able to work to my weaknesses more easily than having the ice available to me twice a day, three times a day, however often I can get my rehab stuff in.”

"It's definitely lonely at times."

While the 2022-23 season was tough for the Canucks as a whole, it was even more difficult for Dermott, who had to watch it all happen at a distance. As much as he missed being on the ice playing hockey, he missed the camaraderie of his teammates even more.

“It was definitely tough. I mean, hockey is one [thing] but I mean, just being part of the team, that's a big aspect of my life,” said Dermott. “Always having these guys here for me and coming in and being able to chat with them every day, hear what they're going through, let them hear what I'm going through and just kind of be brothers that way. That's probably the biggest part I missed. 

“You know, you hope no one gets injured but you're always happy to have a new friend to hang out with every day. It's definitely lonely at times.”

Dermott spent most of the season with fellow defenceman Tucker Poolman, who played just three games while dealing with the migraine headaches that limited him to just 40 games in the 2021-22 season. 

“He was a great friend for me,” said Dermott. “He was going through kind of the same stuff. We could bounce symptoms off each other, see how each other were feeling each day. A lot of the days we were doing the same workouts, so we could kind of see what bugged each other and bugged one and not the other — kind of be our own scientists that way, because we both weren't getting the answers that we were looking for. 

“He has such a great personality that he was easy to be around and definitely made you feel more comfortable about the shit that you were going through.”

"I know I haven't proved myself this year at all."

As Dermott deals with the uncertainty of his concussion recovery, he also has the uncertainty of his future with the Canucks looming over him. Dermott is a restricted free agent in need of a new contract.

“I thought [Dermott] had a really good training camp,” said Allvin on Monday. “He was coming in here early August and was prepared…I think it's too early for us to say anything until he starts skating and getting into his workouts but he's definitely a name we need to talk about, what we're going to do, leading up to the summer and qualifying those RFAs.”

Dermott, for his part, is keeping that aspect of his summer out of his mind. 

“I'm sure I'm gonna be here. That's my plan,” said Dermott. “I haven't really talked to my agent too much about it. I'm gonna kinda leave it up to them. I mean, I know I haven't proved myself this year at all, so I'm not going to be arrogant and ask for much. I'm just gonna focus on myself and get feeling good and really try to dive into this new plan that I've got.

“When this happens for a whole year, you're not thinking, 'Oh, what money am I gonna make,' you just want to be back playing hockey again.”