GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Michal Rozsival smiled when asked if he had any concerns about playing back-to-back games just one week after returning to the Coyotes lineup.
Whats too soon? he said after Thursdays 4-2 win over Edmonton. It felt like forever.
Time moves slowly for most injured players as they work their way back to health. Time absolutely crawls for guys with concussions.
You cant do anything but rest, said Rozsival, who took a puck to the face in the first period of the season opener at San Jose and missed two months with recurring symptoms.
I was light-headed, I had headaches, I was nauseous, and there was a lot of pressure in my forehead and in the nose area where I got hit, he said. Ive never had a concussion before, so I didnt know what to expect. It took a long time a lot longer than I thought it would.
The lengthy recovery time was frustrating for first-year Coyotes associate coach Jim Playfair, who works with the defensemen. Playfair liked the work ethic, professionalism and abilities he saw from Rozsival in training camp. He was anxious to see what sort of influence the veteran defenseman would have on a young blue-line corps.
I dont know how much weve missed him because I havent seen him, Playfair said Thursday. The group has done a good job in his absence, but I know from experience that hell make us a lot better when hes back at full speed.
Ive watched his career. Players who can skate and shoot like that and handle the minutes he does are extremely rare.
The Coyotes acquired Rozsival from the New York Rangers in January in a deal that sent forward Wojtek Wolski to New York. The deal was part of general manager Don Maloneys attempt to overhaul an aging and slowing defensive corps in favor of younger, mobile, puck-moving blue-liners.
Phoenix hosts the Rangers on Saturday at Jobing.com Arena, marking the first time Rozsival has played his former team since the deal.
Its going to be good to see some of those faces I used to play with, he said, adding that its kind of a funny feeling.
Funny feelings were all Rozsival experienced the past two months as he recovered.
Its a strange experience, he said. One day, you wake up and you think, 'Finally, I think Im turning the corner. I feel better.' The next day you wake up and feel like crap again.
Thats all part of it, I guess, but its also the most frustrating part of it, the ups and downs during recovery, because youre never really sure when its going to get better.
Rozsival tried simple tasks like watching television but admitted the speed of processing information was slow.
Even TV sometimes gave me this weird feeling, he said. It would almost cause vibrations. Its hard to describe it, but I just tried to rest.
Rozsival said he never felt any pressure from the team to return; there was only support. If there was any pressure, it was internal because he wanted to help the team. But both he and Playfair said the NHLs increased awareness of concussions and their long-term effects helped keep them cautious in their approach.
I know I was knocked out in my playing days, but it wasnt under the protocol they have today so I never had a concussion diagnosed, Playfair said. Anybody who played back then probably had one. We used to play without helmets. Thats being stupid, not brave and tough.
The way they do it today is right. Theyre trying to take care of these kids now and in the future.
Rozsival said he is symptom-free and has no fear of being hit, a major hurdle in his return. Playfair has tried to put Rozsival in situations where he can succeed as he plays his way back into shape.
You put him in as many neutral-zone and offensive-zone face-off situations as you can, or you try to put him out there against players that are not at the top of the game, Playfair said. Were trying to get him up to speed where hes a confident, consistent player. Hes a 20-plus-minutes (per game) player that shuts down other players. Thats what hes paid to do.
How far away are we from that? I dont have the answer, but we definitely need him.
That need and a confidence that the concussion has fully healed -- led coach Dave Tippett to play Rozsival in back-to-back games this week despite his limited minutes this season.
Were trying to get him up and going, Tippett said. There was some discussion about whether it was him or (Derek) Morris that was going to come out (of the lineup on Wednesday). We decided to keep Rozy going.
Rozsival loved the decision.
Youre always eager to get back, because youre a player and you want to be performing, he said after the Edmonton win. But this was also the first game we won with me in the lineup, so it was kind of nice to have that winning feeling again. I havent had it for like eight months.