TAMPA — You can sense it in Michael Bournival's smile, flashed often between practice drills and in postgame interviews.
You can see it on the ice. Bournival, 24, a relentless wing, plays every shift with desperation. He refuses to be denied on a forecheck or in front of the net. That contagious competitiveness has helped the callup from AHL Syracuse stick in the Lightning lineup the past four games.
"He's an energizer for us," coach Jon Cooper said.
Bournival isn't ready to leave the NHL, mostly because he didn't know if he'd ever get back to it. With concussion symptoms sidelining him for a good portion of the past two seasons, Bournival worried about living a normal life. But after an encouraging doctor's visit in June, Bournival found a lifeline with the Lightning, signing a one-year, two-way deal July 1.
He has gotten an opportunity due to a banged-up Tampa Bay forward group. And despite averaging just under 10 minutes per game, Bournival provides a lift.
He is soaking in every second. Bournival puts his thumb and forefinger centimeters apart to show how close his career was to being over.
"It changed everything for me," Bournival said. "I enjoy every moment. Because you never know when it's going to end."
Bournival grew up in Quebec watching the Canadiens on TV. So when the 5-foot-11, 198-pound forward surprisingly became a staple in the Montreal lineup as a rookie in 2013-14, he was thrilled. Bournival racked up 14 points in 60 games and appeared in 14 of 17 playoff games, including one against the Lightning in Montreal's first-round sweep.
"He's a guy that just made the team off determination and hard work," Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty said. "I don't think they really had a spot for him in the lineup going into camp, and he stole the job. That's the type of player he is."
But in Bournival's second game of the 2014-15 season, Nov. 5 in Buffalo, his head hit the boards on a check by the Sabres' Cody McCormick. Bournival left the game immediately.
He returned in December and played 27 games, even as symptoms persisted. He was dizzy.
"When I was on the ice, it was foggy," he said.
When at home, he mostly slept.
Said Pacioretty: "I remember coming to the rink so often and seeing him in rough shape."
But for two months, Bournival didn't tell the team.
"I was living my dreams," Bournival said. "I was in the NHL for Montreal, for a team that when I was young, I was watching them on TV. I didn't want to lose it."
Finally, with Bournival in the AHL, he told the team, which shut him down. "I couldn't play anymore," he said. "I had no choice."
Bournival played in 20 AHL games last season before a hit to the head in January sparked more symptoms. This time Bournival didn't hide them. "I didn't want to take a chance," he said.
Bournival wondered if he'd ever get another chance to play.
The Lightning was interested but had to make sure he was healthy. In June, Bournival went to Detroit to visit Dr. Jeff Kutcher, a concussion specialist the team knows well. Assistant general manager Julien BriseBois said the appointment revealed that Bournival's symptoms were caused by neck and nerve issues. After treatment, Bournival was healthy.
After starting this season in AHL Syracuse, Bournival got his first callup in early December and played three games. On Dec. 22, Bournival scored in a 5-2 win against St. Louis, his first NHL goal in nearly two years. He hasn't left the lineup since.
"Not much has been given to him," Pacioretty said. "He's had to earn it and be patient for his comeback. We're really happy to see him back."
Condra sent down: Forward Erik Condra was reassigned to Syracuse.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.