It took all of two shifts for Francis Bouillon to register his first hit in his first NHL game since mid January. It is safe to say he missed the game of hockey… a lot.
At 6:19 of the first period Tuesday night, Bouillon hit San Jose’s Benn Ferriero in the offensive zone. He had so much fun delivering the hit that later on the same shift, he planted Brad Winchester into the left boards, causing a loud sound that reverberated throughout Bridgestone Arena.
“In the first period, I gave some good hits,” Bouillon said following Wednesday’s practice at Centennial Sportsplex. “My first objective was to put my concussion to the side and focus on my game and that’s what I did yesterday.”
Bouillon last played in an NHL contest January 16th in Chicago’s United Center. In that game, the Blackhawks’ Troy Brouwer hammered him into the end boards in Nashville’s defensive zone.
A series of setbacks in his recovery from post concussion syndrome meant Bouillon had several starts and stops to the workouts that he hoped would lead him back onto the ice.
Finally asymptomatic around the start of this season’s training camp, Bouillon gradually elevated his workouts on the stationary bike. When he saw success on the bike, he took to the ice, first skating on his own and then joining his teammates in non-contact drills. The words non-contact and Bouillon do not mix well and he quickly progressed to full practice.
As far as easing Bouillon back into game action gradually – it didn’t happen. In the first period he played 6:39; more than that of the team’s leader in ice time this season Ryan Suter.
For the game Bouillon logged a respectable 17:32 of ice time over 22 shifts. Not knowing how much he was going to play, Bouillon was happy to be relied upon that much.
“I was kind of surprised,” he said. “I was happy though. It is kind of hard when you come back and play like seven, eight, or nine minutes. It is hard to get involved in the game. To play that many, it was great for me.”
Winchester later hit Bouillon up high inside the Nashville blue line along the right boards. Winchester was sent off for targeting Bouillon’s head on the check.
Following the game, Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz thought taking that first high hit early was good for Bouillon.
“You are going to get bumped up in this game,” Trotz said. “Sometimes the best thing is to find out if you get bumped around a little bit that you are okay and life can move forward. I was really happy for him and I thought he played really, really well.”
Something else that was encouraging to Bouillon was how he felt on Wednesday.
“I’m not too sore,” he said. “It is a little surprising. I have been preparing for that game since training camp. I’m feeling sharp mentally and physically.”
He will need to feel sharp Thursday night when the Tampa Bay Lightning visits Bridgestone Arena. With the talented players Tampa Bay has up front, the Nashville defensemen will have their hands full in their zone.