Canucks’ Tucker Poolman ‘training, skating’ as migraines still a concern

The hope this off-season is that healing time and a methodical, progressive workout plan allows the blueliner to ramp up his heart rate without triggering a recurrence of the severe headaches

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It’s still five weeks until a two-day training camp in Whistler commences, but there are issues the Vancouver Canucks need to resolve.

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They have to get creative to become salary-cap compliant and also get to a comfortable sign, status quo or trade place with J.T. Miller before the National Hockey League season starts Oct. 12 in Edmonton.

And they must also attempt to improve a defence that has come under hockey operations department scrutiny for lacking critical structure in puck management and transition on zone exits.

An additional concern is the health status of 29-year-old blueliner Tucker Poolman. 

Continuous migraine headaches limited the right-shot defender to just 40 games last season, which ended with him on injury reserve. 

The hope this off-season is that a combination of healing time, a methodical and progressive workout plan would allow Poolman to ramp up his heart rate without placing an arduous load and triggering a recurrence of migraines.

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His agent, Dean Grillo, told Postmedia in late June there was some reason for optimism with his client, who has three years remaining on his four-year, US $10-million contract. Total remaining salaries are $2.25 million, $3 million and $3 million.

“He has done some high-heart rate stuff and he’s hoping to get back on the ice soon and be strengthened,” Grillo said at the time. “I don’t know about that (migraine) stuff and I don’t think anybody knows. Let’s put it this way: I think he’d call me if something went sideways.”

Canucks defenceman Tucker Poolman in action against the Montreal Canadiens during a November game in Montreal.
Canucks defenceman Tucker Poolman in action against the Montreal Canadiens during a November game in Montreal. Photo by Minas Panagiotakis /Getty Images files

On Thursday, Grillo added that Poolman was on the right track, despite a report that he may still be suffering lingering symptoms that could creep up if he gets into high-intensity skating and summer scrimmages.

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“He has been training and skating all summer,” said Grillo.

The obvious litmus test will be at camp during intensive contact drills and scrimmages. In the interim, there’s not a concrete path that will provide Poolman with more peace of mind. Rest might be best.

“The big thing for Poolman is that he wants to get back to hockey and sometimes the only treatment is time as his brain needs time to heal and adjust before returning to hockey,” Dr. Harjas Grewal, a B.C. physician and ardent hockey analyst, said Thursday. “It’s good to have a step-wise approach and ramp things up slowly, and to ensure as you ramp it up he does not get any symptoms, or it will be time to dial it back.

“Poolman falls in the group that has persistent headaches after a traumatic event leading to a concussion. It’s difficult to manage and often using a team-based approach with neurologists, physiotherapists is good — and also trying different medications to prevent headaches when they arise.”

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Poolman played 13 of the first 14 games last season, but a pair of episodes sent him to the sidelines and brought a heightened level of concern about finding a solution to the setbacks.

The Dubuque, Iowa native had a migraine episode in Winnipeg on Jan. 27. He played 7:54 of the first period during a 5-1 road triumph and didn’t return for the second period. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound blueliner didn’t absorb a heavy hit that could have resulted in a whiplash to promote discomfort and headaches.

He was sidelined for 26 games, but a long road to recovery showed promise with symptom-free skating and then practising.

But a second setback came April 3 at Rogers Arena in a 3-2 overtime loss to Las Vegas. Poolman didn’t play a second-period shift and left after just 4:25. It was later revealed to be a recurrence of what’s crippling his career.

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He had landed a first-period, defensive-zone hit on Michael Amadio at 3:23 and followed with similar contact on Jonas Rondbjerg at 8:30 in a third pairing with Travis Dermott. Poolman seemed fine, but he wasn’t.

He had been symptom-free for two weeks and the last episode ended his sorry season. Migraine headaches can be hereditary or caused by a number of factors, including concussions. They can last hours or days and Poolman did miss a game with a migraine while with the Jets in 2018.

The hard-luck Poolman has also had a calamitous career that has included shoulder surgery and he even took a puck in the face while with the Jets. He knows he must rely on his size and strength as a down-low deterrent to warrant playing time.

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Hesitancy to wonder if the next hit is going to be the big one to trigger another migraine is a natural worry. But he has to learn to play through the doubt.

It’s been quite the journey for the Grand Forks, N.D., native. After a strong senior high school season, he didn’t receive a college offer. He pondered packing it in and concentrating on academics before the Wichita Falls Wildcats tossed him a career life-preserver.

It’s a long way from the North American Hockey League in 2011-12, capturing the 2016 NCAA title at North Dakota with Brock Boeser and Troy Stecher, and then grinding out 160 games in The Show in Winnipeg and Vancouver.

He’d obviously like that journey to continue. Time will tell.

[email protected]

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