VANCOUVER, B.C. – Delaney Collins is itching to take off her brilliant golden jersey and get into a black one.
The veteran defenceman on the Canadian women’s hockey team glows like the sun among a sea of red, white and black during practices at the Hockey Canada Cup. The jersey’s colour is a caution sign so her teammates take it easy around her.
The 32-year-old from Pilot Mound, Man., was forced to learn caution recently after entering the frustrating and baffling world of concussions.
Collins, who has represented Canada in five world championships, isn’t playing in the Olympic test event this week. She’s waiting until the middle of September before she plays her first game of the 2009-10 season.
“I never thought it would take this long and I’m disappointed it took this long,” Collins said prior to Canada’s game against Finland on Tuesday.
“At the same time I just feel I’m more ready now than I ever thought I could be. Physically I feel great and emotionally I am dying to play hockey. I’m dying to help this team.”
Collins was skating full-out into the corner during Canada’s game against a Moncton midget triple-A team last October when her skate caught an edge and she hit her head hard as she went down.
Not realizing how badly she was injured, the five-foot-four, 130-pound defender didn’t miss a shift and continued to play for her women’s club team in Calgary for the next six weeks.
“It wasn’t that obvious to me that I had a full-blown concussion,” Collins said. “I knew I didn’t feel right and I’d hit my head really hard to the point where my ears were ringing and I had a funny taste in my mouth.”
After consulting with two concussion doctors and a neurologist in Calgary, she realized just how serious her head injury was.
She also discovered recovery from a concussion would try her patience a lot more than rehabilitation of a torn abdominal muscle she’d suffered just prior to the 2006 Olympics.
Collins had days when she felt fine only to feel terrible the next day. She wasn’t ready to play in a sixth world championship in April and it’s only been since June that she feels she’s made real progress.
The diminutive defenceman also felt the looming deadline of an Olympic season, yet there was nothing she could do but wait. While Collins has played 88 career games for Canada, she’s had to scratch and claw her way onto the national squad every time.
“I’ve told my good friend Meghan Agosta a few times I was done and she laughed and said ‘No you’re not, you’re just having a bad day,”‘ Collins said. “I haven’t played in an Olympic Games yet so I felt ‘How could this be happening to me? I don’t want to miss this opportunity to try out for this team.’
“I was really uptight before the world championships because I was holding onto so much hope that I could get back and go to Finland. The stress of it creates a cycle of headaches so you have to be willing to let go.”
Collins has seven goals and 30 assists for Canada. She was an alternate defenceman on the 2006 Olympic team and feels it was the eight weeks she was out with that torn muscle that cost her a spot on the team.
She received sage advice from Canadian teammate Jennifer Botterill, who suffered her own major concussion in 2004. During a summer scrimmage against pro men’s players, she collided with Raffi Torres, who currently plays for the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets.
Botterill, from Winnipeg, spoke about her experience at a concussion seminar in London, Ont., earlier this year.
“It can be a very frustrating injury because you have to show a lot of patience,” Botterill explained. “It’s unlike other injuries where you can do active recovery and things to help. With your brain, you just have to let it rest.
“There’s so many different symptoms. Sometimes you’re more emotional as well. You’re just not your normal self when your brain gets rattled. I’ve tried to be there for her and explain that it’s important to be patient.”
Canadian head coach Melody Davidson says trying to play through a concussion or returning to play too soon after suffering one isn’t worth it for Collins or any of her players.
“I feel like our athletes, they’re smart ladies and they know hockey is just one part of their life and they want a full life all of their lives,” she said. “Delaney been through the days when she couldn’t even get out of bed and I know she doesn’t want to return to those days.”