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Blackhawks put Montador through waiver process

Hawks defenseman Steve Montador works point during Chicago Blackhawks 6-2 wover Buffalo Sabres Wednesday January 18 2012. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Hawks defenseman Steve Montador works the point during the Chicago Blackhawks 6-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres Wednesday January 18, 2012. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Blackhawks defenseman Steve Montador’s been around the NHL long enough to know he’s not supposed to talk about injuries. He’s supposed to be vague and elusive — upper-body this, lower-body that.

But here he was in the bowels of the Pepsi Center in Denver on Friday, speaking candidly, intensely and emotionally about the depression that set in during his excruciating recovery from a concussion he suffered last February. About his very real fear that he’d never play again.

The excitement of being so close to returning to the game he loves overrode everything else.

“It’s just really hard to put into words the experience, just to be back with the guys,” said Montador, who’s been participating in morning skates and practices for a couple of weeks. “It’s just a real blessing and I’m just filled with gratitude that my recovery’s brought me this far.”

That recovery took another step on Monday when reports surfaced that Montador had been put on waivers by the Hawks, presumably to allow the team to send him to Rockford for a conditioning stint. Given Montador’s concussion history and his hefty contract (he’s in the second year of a four-year, $11-million deal), it’s extremely unlikely that another team will claim him.

But by going through the waiver process rather than simply loan him to Rockford for an official conditioning assignment, the Hawks can keep Montador in Rockford for more than 14 days if they so choose.

Given how well offseason additions Michal Rozsival and Sheldon Brookbank have played while splitting time in the No. 6 defenseman role, Montador’s future with the Hawks is murky at best.

Montador said Friday that a stint in Rockford was a possibility, and called it a “logical step.” Given how infrequently the Hawks practice in this compressed season, it’s been tough for Montador to get back into game shape. Rockford could afford him that opportunity, even if he winds up staying there longer than he’d like.

Regardless, Montador is grateful just to be back on the ice, no matter where the ice is. For a while there — he suffered the concussion on Feb. 7 at Colorado, returned for one game on March 27 at New Jersey, and hasn’t played since — he wondered if he might never make it back.

That fear, combined with what Montador said was a physical symptom of his neural transmitters being prevented from connecting and being properly used by his brain, led to depression for the veteran defenseman.

“I know people talk about sports being a microcosm for life and it’s very true that way,” he said. “I can see why people have a hard time with … being taken away from something they love to do. There’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety and depression that come with that. I’ve had a lot of help to work through that, and I feel like I’ve taken the right steps.”

He’s not all the way back yet. He needs to take a few hits, give a few hits, and skate a few long shifts to know he’s ready again. Of course, if Quenneville called on him to play on any given night, Montador said his response would be, “[Hell], yeah,” but he knows his journey back is not yet complete — mentally or physically.

Montador described the last 13 months as a roller coaster, full of steady climbs and precipitous drops. Now, he’s likely headed back down to the minors, but considering where he was just a few months ago, that could be a step up, too.

“That’s why I see this as such a blessing. It’s like a second chance,” he said. “I just realized how much I missed it, how much I would’ve missed it. I’m not fully back yet, but I’m just happy to be here in the moment.”



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