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Lingering effects of concussion don't worry Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Mike Smith

Let's start with this: Mike Smith, almost five months after being diagnosed with post­concussion syndrome, still has not gotten on the ice.

The Lightning goalie knows how that can be perceived, especially after saying in April he wanted to be skating by June 1. But circumstances being what they are, Smith said there is no rush, even though, as he puts it, "I could definitely go for a wheel" around the rink.

The circumstances are that Smith, despite pushing his heart rate during workouts to 175 — "Pretty close to his max training capacity," Lightning trainer Tommy Mulligan said — still has occasional bouts of fogginess and sometimes has "issues with little black dots in my vision."

"It's little things where I know I'm not right yet," Smith said. "But I'm moving in the right direction. I've felt better and progressed every day I've been to the gym, so it's definitely exciting."

And enough of an assurance that, pending an upcoming checkup by Tampa Bay's medical staff, general manger Brian Lawton said he will not look for goaltending help in free agency.

"Honestly, we feel 100 percent comfortable with him," Lawton said. "He's going to be ready. He's on track."

Asked if he will be ready for the start of training camp on Sept. 12, Smith said, "Absolutely."

It is an important marker for the Lightning, which has no other goalie consistent enough to handle the No. 1 job. Add a contract that next season bumps to $2 million and you understand why Smith's health is a front-burner issue.

"He's definitely progressing," Mulligan said.

"I don't think anybody, including himself, has any concerns going forward towards training camp. Is he 100 percent now? I'd say no, but he's pretty darn close."

In fact, a concussion expert said symptoms almost five months after diagnosis are not necessarily cause for concern.

"Most concussion patients, 80 to 85 percent, will clear up within three months," said Robert C. Cantu, a Massachusetts neurologist. "A small subset of that have symptoms that last longer. While it's rare, it certainly happens."

That indicates the severity of the concussion, Cantu said, adding, "You can push yourself into prolonging concussion symptoms if you don't have the proper treatment."

Or timely treatment.

As Smith's story goes, he did not tell the club about his symptoms for almost two months after he was run over by teammate Vinny Pros­pal during a Dec. 2 game at Philadelphia. Smith said symptoms worsened when he was knocked down by a referee Jan. 21 against the Sabres.

His last game was Jan. 30.

At first, Smith, 27, could not watch games from the press box because lights and sounds were so irritating. He saw several doctors but was helped most, he said, by Mark Lindsay, a Toronto chiropractor and soft-tissue specialist who works with elite athletes.

Mulligan said Lindsay straightened a slightly rotated vertebra and conditioned Smith's neck muscles to be more flexible within their range of motion. The idea, Mulligan said, is to increase blood flow to the brain to speed healing.

In the past three weeks, Smith said, the heart rate reached during workouts without nausea or headaches improved 50 beats, to 175.

"Definitely, light at the end of the tunnel," he said.

Next is getting Smith on skates, something he said likely will happen in mid July, a bit earlier than his usual offseason workout schedule.

"The way we judge whether he should be on the ice or not, he's met those criteria." Mulligan said. "There's just no reason at this point to push him more than we need to."

Smith agreed: "It's more important to get a good base in the gym, feel strong and then be ready to go.

"If a month from now I feel as good as I do now, with improvement down the road, I'll be back to the Smitty we all know."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Lingering effects of concussion don't worry Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Mike Smith 06/13/09 [Last modified: Sunday, June 14, 2009 8:09am]
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