By Larry Wigge
Last year at this time, Bryce Salvador head was beginning to clear. The long road to recovery was a difficult one ... one that included several twists and turns.
Salvador, you see, missed all of the 2010-11 season with cochlear concussion he sustained in the third pre-season game. Fast forward to 2012, where the Brandon, Manitoba, product, was back and had the New Jersey Devils merely four wins away from capturing his first Stanley Cup.
"There was a process of seeing a whole bunch of different doctors, some are saying this and some are saying that," Salvador exclaimed. "We were trying to find the best course of action, but ... "
The 36-year-old defenseman was caught in mid-sentence. He knew what he wanted to say, but there was so much frustration and anxiety it caused him tears.
"I wouldn't classify it as a typical concussion," Salvador continued. "The frustrating thing was trying to figure out what was going on with me. It started to make sense when we realized it was an inner ear concussion.
"Once we were able to dial in what the issue was, it was pretty easy from that point on. I was just joking with Zach Parise about it, at this time last year I was just starting my adventure back."
Retirement was never an issue, it was just finding out what was wrong. Salvador said a major component of his recovery was working on a regimen, recalibrating his fine motor skills and getting his balance back in line. He said he saw doctors who worked with him on his eyes, hearing and balance.
And it was like any other offseason ... only better for Bryce Salvador.
Salvador, who stands 6-3, 215 pounds, is the quiet story of the 2012 Stanley Cup. He was plus-18 during the regular season despite having no goals and just nine assists. Now, his shot keeps weaving its way through traffic and finding the net. The good-first-pass, stay-at-home blueliner has three playoff goals, including his first career shorthanded goal. Salvador also has eight assists.
All of first-year coach Peter DeBoer have the green light to advance the puck -- and Salvador is cashing in.
"Not that you take the game for granted or ever get complacent playing," Salvador said. "But when you go through situations where you might not play again and you do get the chance to play again ... you re-appreciate the game. It's like you're looking at everything through green eyes. It was like starting in the NHL all over again."
Not bad for someone who had 23 career goals in 692 regular-season games across a decade-long NHL career. In 16 playoff games this spring he has three goals. In 50 playoff games before this season has had two.
But that is only a small part of the Bryce Salvador journey to the NHL.
Salvador was raised by a single mom, Collyne. While hockey was Bryce's obsession, the cost of the sport was a hardship -- where food and clothing took importance of sticks and skates.
Bryce's household included his brother, Bryan, and sister, Kristyn ... and then some. Following a lifestyle started by their grandmother, the family's home became a haven for mentally challenged individuals and juvenile delinquents.
"I learned pretty quick that life can be a crapshoot, especially when you saw the juvenile delinquents -- all the different backgrounds," Salvador said. "These kids could be anywhere from 12 to 17, and the issues that they come from, the problems they had ... there was a lot going on. You learned to appreciate things ... and learned to fight for your food."
When Salvador was 6 years old, his mother met Eugene Johnson, who would later become Bryce's stepdad and another influence in his life.
"We raised them to understand other people's needs," said Johnson, a native of
Nigeria. "Most of these juvenile delinquents, their problems were not their fault. It was the environment they came from. I think Bryce learned to appreciate people that way."
As the biological sons of black men and white women, Salvador would learn more life lessons playing a sport predominantly played by Caucasians.
"At that age, you're kind of naive from it all, but you would see how people look at you," Salvador said. "Where I grew up, my brother, sister and I were really the only black kids in the whole city in Brandon, where there was 35,000 people. You always felt like you had to prove yourself, but it kind of creates the character of who you are. It was uncomfortable, but it is what it is."
April Salvador, Bryce's wife, said: "He doesn't look at his hardships. He always says to me, 'Today is today and whatever happened yesterday, forget about it.' That's probably the attitude that's got him through it."
Through twists and turns in life, Bryce Salvador has made life in hockey pretty simple. You treat people like you hope they will treat me.