SPORTS

Winnik back at Leafs practice, could play less than week after scary fall

11/11/2014 10:38 EST | Updated 01/11/2015 05:59 EST
TORONTO - Daniel Winnik's head hit the ice and he briefly lost consciousness. Before he was taken off on a stretcher last Thursday night, he was able to tell the training staff about the entire play that led to his fall.

Winnik never felt numb and never had any pain in his neck. By the intermission, he was walking around the visiting locker-room at Pepsi Center in Denver and telling his Toronto Maple Leafs teammates he was OK.

After being held out of two games over the weekend for precautionary reasons, Winnik skated by himself Monday, took part in Tuesday's practice and could be back in the lineup Wednesday against the Boston Bruins. He considers himself lucky to have come away from the incident unscathed.

"Usually you see plays like that and someone laying on the ice and you expect like a concussion or something," Winnik said. "I was fully aware of what was going on. I remember the hit. Obviously just went out for a little bit. But I felt fine, I wasn't dizzy, didn't have a headache or anything."

The medical staff held Winnik out of the rest of the Leafs' 4-3 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche and then coach Randy Carlyle was told Winnik shouldn't play Saturday or Sunday.

"They provided us with a timetable in which they thought was best prescribed in this situation, so that's what you have to follow," Carlyle said. "In the world of sports, the concussion issue is talked about in a bunch of different ways, and this to us was not something that we had any other way other than what the medical staff and the doctors prescribed."

The 29-year-old forward seemed to be fitting in extremely well since signing a one-year deal with Toronto in the off-season. Winnik has a goal and six assists in his first 13 games and in the process forced his way further up the lineup than Carlyle expected.

Still, Winnik didn't object to sitting out two games just to be safe.

"I completely agreed with the training staff on that," he said. "As much as I wanted to play, I understand it. It's the best thing to do going forward. Why risk it, it's silly to say, just for two games. I know it's two important games, but down the road it'll benefit me more."

The Leafs won each game, beating the New York Rangers 5-4 and then the Ottawa Senators 5-3. Coming up Wednesday is a rematch with the rival Boston Bruins, who embarrassed the Leafs 4-1 at Air Canada Centre on Oct. 25.

"It was a lot of stupidity and guys will admit that," centre Nazem Kadri said of the team's performance that night against Boston. "Just being in the wrong place at the wrong time and just kind of having a couple brain cramps here and there that end up in the back of your net."

If Winnik plays, he's expected to be back on the second line alongside Kadri and right-winger David Clarkson. That's where he skated Tuesday, giving the indication that he should be good to face Boston.

Carlyle said doctors would make an assessment of Winnik's condition after Wednesday's morning skate and then again after pre-game warm-ups.

The possibility of Winnik returning so quickly seemed like a longshot last week.

"It's just one of those instances where you get lucky," defenceman Cody Franson said. "That was a big scare for all of us. Any time you can get a guy back like that and where he looks OK, it's a big relief for the group."

Winnik was relieved almost right away. Other than an interference penalty, he didn't think former teammate Jan Hejda had any ill intent on the play, and the Colorado defenceman later reached out to make sure Winnik was fine.

Fully aware of his surroundings, Winnik called it a rare scene for a hockey rink to be so silent. After watching the replay of himself going to the ice headfirst the next day, he could understand why.

"It's tough to see yourself laying on the ice like that," Winnik said.

Notes: Winger David Booth, who has been out six weeks with a broken foot, skated with strength and conditioning coach Anthony Belza again Tuesday. It's unclear when he might rejoin the Leafs for practice, Carlyle said. ... The coach also said winger Joffrey Lupul is at least a week away from rejoining the team on the ice. Lupul recently had a cast removed from his broken right hand, but is having another smaller cast put on.

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