Keith Ballard didn't realize Wednesday was the one-year anniversary of his last hockey game until he called to make an appointment with a neurologist, and the receptionist asked the date of his last concussion.
It has been one year since that frightening sight on the Xcel Energy Center ice, a headfirst collision with the top of the boards between the benches that left Ballard convulsing and with three facial fractures. It has been one year, yet the former Minnesota Gophers great and Coyotes, Panthers, Canucks and Wild defenseman still experiences symptoms "here and there" from the latest concussion he had during his hockey career.
Ballard is back in college at the University of Minnesota, where he pursues his degree in sports management. If he stares at a computer for long hours as he writes a paper, it'll sometimes trigger dizziness, fogginess, "that in-a-daze feeling." If he overexerts himself physically, he'll sometimes feel "a little confusion, bad sleeping and headaches."
"The headaches aren't bad like they were," Ballard said this week. "The last time I had them really bad was in August. I didn't do any real physical activity in the summer other than going for walks, but nothing close to summer hockey training. One day, we were playing tag with the kids outside and I started getting real dizzy and bad headaches. I had to lay down and that seemed to trigger other things.
"Chopping wood one day, I suddenly had to stop."
Ballard, who turned 33 a few weeks ago, will never play another NHL game. He is making his retirement from a 10-year, 604-game NHL career official, and the husband and father of two sounds at peace.
"I didn't want to retire at this time, but with the bigger picture in mind, it was a no-brainer," Ballard said. "You look at so many athletes and they struggle for so long and I don't want that to be me. I want to live a healthy life, be there for my wife and kids."
It has been a slow process, but Ballard sees doctors often and has found one in Apple Valley, Minn., a NUCCA chiropractor named Kerry Johnson, who has done wonders.
"It's gotten a lot better," Ballard said. "My day-to-day stuff is good for the most part."
Ballard thinks he was diagnosed with five concussions during his career, the first in 2010 when his head hit the glass on a clean check. Ballard "wobbled off the ice in a daze."
Those five don't include the times he got his "bell rung."
"I remember my first year I got in a fight with Billy Guerin and he got me pretty good," Ballard said. "It was one of those where the rest of the game you're a little foggy.
"If I make a full recovery from this concussion, I'll chalk it up to good luck because, if I was hit like that again, I'm freaked out about what could happen."