BRANDON — Noah Welch insisted this story is true.
A former Panthers teammate, hearing Welch will donate his brain to medical research, said, seriously, "Wow, how long does that put you out for?"
"He thought maybe I would just give it for a couple of days and get it back," Welch said, laughing. "I told him I would never reveal his name, but that was a direct quote."
It's kind of difficult to get back to talkin' hockey after something like that comes out, so suffice it to say the Lightning defenseman, acquired Wednesday from Florida in the Steve Eminger trade, considers his cross-state move as a breath of fresh air.
Welch, 26, was scratched for 36 games with the Panthers, averaged 6:38 of ice time in 23 in which he played and admittedly didn't talk much with coach Peter DeBoer, who, Welch said, apparently did not like his game.
"I did a lot of watching this year, a lot of bag skating, a lot of grunt work," Welch said Thursday at the Ice Sports Forum. "It's going to be nice to just go out and play hockey."
That happens tonight against the Blues at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa.
First, though, we must hear about donating his brain, after death, to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University's School of Medicine, which is studying the long-term effects of concussions.
Welch is one of 95 who have signed up to donate, said Chris Nowinski, president of the Sports Legacy Institute, a nonprofit organization collaborating with the study. About half, he said, are former pro, college or high school athletes.
Welch is the only active NHL player involved. Nowinski said four retired players have pledged.
"As far as my decision to do it, I'm an organ donor, so it didn't take much thought," Welch said. "The biggest thing is that it's going to help athletes play more."
How about your family?
"My brother, he laughed about it," Welch said. "He thought it was pretty cool. My uncle cracked jokes. My mother cried. She's pretty emotional. She just hopes she doesn't have to be there to see that."
Nowinski put the bug in Welch's ear when the fellow Harvard alums sat next to one another at a dinner function.
"I don't think anyone grasped the concussion issue as quickly as Noah," Nowinski said. "He wanted to do it. He thought it was important."
And though Welch said he has had only one concussion, in February 2007 with AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Ann McKee, associate professor of neurology and pathology at Boston University, said any brain of an athlete from an impact sport is valuable because "there is so little known about repetitive trauma."
As for Welch's decision to donate, she said, "It shows a level of altruism, a sense of duty to other athletes."
"That's how the guy is," said Lightning defenseman Cory Murphy, Welch's former Panthers teammate, though not the one from the beginning of this story. "He's an intelligent guy and saw an opportunity to really help people who play the game."
With the Lightning, Welch has an opportunity to help himself.
DOWNIE SUSPENSION APPEALED: The Lightning's AHL affiliate in Norfolk appealed the 20-game suspension the league gave Steve Downie on Thursday for deliberately striking an official in the shin with a stick in a Saturday game against Hershey. Downie's agent, Rick Curran said — and the league confirmed — his client was not interviewed during the investigation. "He got no opportunity to defend himself." Jim Mill, AHL vice president of hockey operations, said video of the incident was "clear-cut." Downie stays on indefinite suspension during the appeal. … Forward Brandon Segal was sent to Norfolk. … Left wing Gary Roberts, 42, who cleared waivers Wednesday, was not at practice, and his name was off his locker stall. Is the 21-year veteran ready to retire?