A lot of things crossed Thomas Hickey’s mind over the past seven weeks, as the post-concussion symptoms would not leave the Islanders defenseman alone. When would he be able to come back? Could this be it for his season? Would this affect the way he lives the rest of his life?
“I think it does cross your mind. It certainly does,” Hickey told The Post as he continued to get closer to his return, taking part in an optional morning skate before his team’s match against the Devils in Newark on Thursday night, set to be his 21st straight game out of the lineup.
“But at the end of the day, bodies are miraculous. You do heal and you do get better. Once you realize there is no risk of re-injury or making things worse, you can move forward.”
Hickey was injured when he hit the back of his head along the sideboards in Denver on Dec. 17, and there were a couple false-starts when he thought he might be able to return. With all of the tests showing that his brain has healed, he is just hoping that this doesn’t turn into another regression.
“It is difficult because you just wonder: ‘Is tomorrow going to better?’ And you can’t get too far ahead of yourself, either, because it’s a tricky injury,” Hickey said. “When you think you’re feeling OK, you get whacked in the psyche and you need to take a break again. That part of it was tough, but it’s part of the game. Everyone deals with injuries. Those are tough ones, but it is what it is.”
Known for his cerebral approach to the game, Hickey seems destined to be a coach one day. But this is his second concussion in less than a year, on top of what he said were “a few” when he was younger. The knowledge about the long-term effects of brain injuries is increasing all the time, and even now compared to five years ago, the information available to players and medical staffs is far superior.
That is partly why Hickey has so much confidence he is going to be able to return, and isn’t overly concerned about his health down the line.
“I don’t want to talk too much about it because I don’t pretend to be an expert, but there is a point when, in the infancy of a head injury, you can make things worse,” he said. “That’s why I think there is some scary things that can happen. But you do get to a point where you can be fully healed. That’s what it’s called post-concussion syndrome, because you no longer have a concussion, but you have symptoms. It’s important to differentiate the two and understand that even the things that are hurting are not going to hurt your brain. That’s No. 1.
“And since we’ve been able to get by that, it’s just dealing with it and talking with professionals and finding the quickest way to get through it. It took a while, but I’m thankful for all the people here, and the support and the patience they’ve had because it’s something that you don’t know when other people are going through it, but it is difficult.”
In his absence, the Islanders have gone on a torrid run. They were 17-5-3 in their previous 25 games going into Thursday night, and rookie Devon Toews has proven worthy of taking Hickey’s spot on the left side.
“A guy like Thomas has been a big part of our group before he got injured,” coach Barry Trotz said. “We relied heavily on him. With that being said, when you do get hurt, there is opportunity for somebody else to step in. What I have seen from that group is that everyone has recognized there is some depth on our blue line, and everyone is pushing forward to make sure they’re still in the lineup when we do activate Thomas and put him in the mix. So there is some urgency on the back end, for sure.”
There is also urgency from Hickey, who is just happy to be closing in on returning to the ice after such a long and uncertain time.
“It’s tough,” Hickey said. “It tests you in ways you never want to be tested.”