WORCESTER, Mass. — Spencer Abbott took a few strides closer Friday to making his return to the University of Maine lineup.
A little more than 24 hours before the Black Bears were scheduled to play Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA Division I Men’s Hockey Northeast Regional, the senior left winger practiced with his teammates at the DCU Center.
“I feel good,” the Hockey East Player of the Year and Hobey Baker semifinalist said after the 60-minute workout.
“I’ve been progressing little by little each day,” he explained. “I took a few days off at first and since then it’s been getting better and better.”
Abbott confirmed Friday that he suffered a concussion when he took a hit to the head from Boston University’s Sean Escobedo during the third period of their March 16 Hockey East semifinal at the TD Garden in Boston.
Ever since, he has been working with UMaine head athletic trainer Paul Culina and the school’s medical staff in complying with UMaine and NCAA protocols instituted for the treatment of head injuries.
“That was my first concussion. Hopefully, it’s my last,” said Abbott, who is the nation’s leading scorer with 61 points (20 goals, 41 assists).
Friday afternoon, Abbott said he had not been given medical clearance to play in Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. regional game against the defending national champion Bulldogs.
However, he has continued making progress. Abbott first returned to the ice for about 25 minutes of skating on Tuesday and has been increasing the length and intensity of his participation over the past three days.
“The most (difficult) part is getting my legs back,” he admitted. “I was a little gassed the first couple times I went out there, but the headaches stopped and really I’ve felt pretty solid out there so far; no complaints at all.”
Abbott appeared to be able to exert himself, going end-to-end several times during Friday’s practice. He participated in all phases of the workout as part of the first line that includes Brian Flynn and Joey Diamond.
The fact Abbott has been able to gradually increase his participation during the week is a sign of continued progress.
Culina is prohibited by privacy laws from discussing a student-athlete’s condition or treatment. He did explain that a UMaine student-athlete working his or her way back from a head injury who experiences a recurrence of concussion-related symptoms during the recovery must go back to the first day of the return-to-competition regimen.
That has not been the case, according to Abbott.
At UMaine, the process takes five days. It includes balance testing, neuro-psychological testing and light exertion (not necessarily sport-specific) on the first day, increased intensity of exercise on Day 2, and sport-specific activities and participation in practice on Day 3.
On the fourth day, a student-athlete with no symptoms engages in a full-speed practice with no contact, then on Day 5 is cleared for full contact while being monitored during practice.
If all those milestones are reached without symptoms, a member of the medical staff then can give final clearance for a return to competition.
On Thursday, Abbott wore an orange jersey signifying that he was not allowed to engage in contact. During Friday’s workout, he was wearing a regular, navy-blue practice jersey, which seems to indicate he was on Day 5 of the protocol.
A UMaine physician was supposed to travel to Worcester to re-evaluate Abbott’s condition again on Friday night.
“I really hope I can go tomorrow (Saturday),” Abbott said. “I can’t say for certain. I’ve got to talk to the doctors later tonight (Friday) and then we’ll figure that out.”
The 23-year-old Abbott, who is an assistant captain, missed last Saturday’s Hockey East title game, a 4-1 loss to top-ranked Boston College.
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound native of Hamilton, Ontario, had contributed four goals and five assists in his previous seven games for the Bears. He has scored three power-play goals and two game-winning goals in 38 games.
“Obviously, having him would give us a tremendous lift,” Diamond said.
“If we have him in, he’s going to be a big factor for us. We’re hoping he’s ready to go.”
Abbott isn’t sure he can handle being on the sidelines again with his season and his college career on the line. He described watching the BC game as being “in the twilight zone.”
He is mentally prepared to play and doesn’t expect to be held back, at least from a psychological standpoint.
“If I get the green light to go, I’m going to go out there and play like I did every night before the concussion,” Abbott said. “I don’t look to shy away from anything. I look to play at 100 percent because I feel like I am.”
Abbott on Friday maintained a low-key, soft-spoken demeanor that seems uncharactericstic for a player of his ability and notoriety.
Diamond is pleased to report that means Abbott is just fine.
“That’s him in a nutshell. That’s his personality,” Diamond said. “It’s unbelieveable how he carries himself on and off the ice and how he deals with all this hype and everything. He doesn’t let anything go to his head.”