For Winnipeg Jets centreman Bryan Little, 2020 has been a disaster. For most, living through the COVID-19 global pandemic has been difficult, but for the 32-year-old veteran forward, every day since suffering a head injury in early November of 2019 has been filled with obstacle after obstacle.
Little caught a Nikolaj Ehlers slap-shot in the side of the head as he was skating around the back of the New Jersey Devils’ net on November 5, immediately dropping the seasoned veteran to the ice in a bloody mess. He then missed the remainder of the abbreviated season and Qualifying Round of the 2020 postseason while dealing with his complicated recovery.
On Wednesday morning, Little spoke with the local media for the first time in a long time, recalling his recollection of the incident, his recovery, constant pain and future outlook. Despite providing much content in terms of his current situation, his prospective of the coming months/years remains foggy.
“It’s tough to sum it up,” Little said when asked about his year overall. “Basically, it goes with the whole 2020 theme. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. It was definitely the toughest year of my career. Physically and just trying to stay positive through the whole thing was tough as well. It was good to have the support of the team and my family through it all. That definitely helped keep the spirits up. There weren’t a lot of positives for me. The biggest highlight was probably playing in that outdoor game and scoring that goal. That’s probably one of the few highlights I will have from this season. I just watched a lot of hockey and did a whole lot of nothing. Definitely frustrating. It was a tough year.”
Although battling a nagging head injury, Little did speak on some positives.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” he said candidly from his home in Cambridge, ON. “That’s kind of been the hardest thing through this whole process. I feel good, I feel fine. The recovery? There’s not much I can do, except time. You’ve just got to wait it out and see how you’re going to react. So, I haven’t been really training but I’ve been staying in shape and exercising, is what you can call it. I feel good. It’s just a matter of waiting to see how it goes.”
His memory of the incident is pretty bang-on, which is a positive that A.) he has not suffered memory loss, and B.) can openly talk about what has kept him down for the past nine months.
“I remember it pretty well, actually,” he said. “I remember passing (the puck) to the point and like I’ve said before, I don’t know why I drifted behind the net, maybe I was just trying to lose my guy. But I lost sight of the puck and I was coming around the net and I felt it right away. I knew I got hit with the puck. I knew it was bad but I didn’t know how bad it was until probably when I went back to the dressing room. I went to stand up and I felt dizzy and nauseous right away. I knew it wasn’t good. The whole side of my left side was pretty numb and throbbing and in pain. I didn’t know how bad it was. I knew it was bad and once we got to the hospital, we did a bunch of tests and stuff. That’s when it really sunk in, the extent of it.”
Suffering a perforated eardrum presents many symptoms and side effects, but the largest of the concerns for Little was his balance.
“The scans and the tests have shown stuff in the pictures and there’s not much I can do except see how it heals and see if it heals. The eardrum thing was, I think I had a pretty big hole in my eardrum and that affected my hearing and balance for a bit. Then I got the surgery done when I decided that I probably wasn’t going to come back for the rest of the season. That took a while to heal up but that feels a lot better now.”
Although faced with a timetable unknown to himself or others, the thought of leaving the game of hockey has entered Little’s mind.
“It’s something I thought about the first few days I was in hospital,” he reflected. “Some of the things the doctors were saying scared me a bit. It still does. The biggest thing I’m thinking about through this is having a healthy and long life and being cognitively all there when this is all over. Until I am told there’s not a lot of huge risk in coming back, it’s kind of just waiting and hopefully a good amount of time will change things.”
Now having seen a neurologist, an ear specialist, concussion experts and a vestibular therapist, Little is hoping to see the day where his wife Brittany doesn’t have to drive him all around town, and the day he is able to pick up and hold his daughter Parker again, with no issue or concern for his well-being.
“Especially after I had my ear surgery, I wasn’t allowed to do anything,” he said. “They told me I couldn’t even lift up my daughter for six weeks. That period of time was definitely tough. I felt pretty useless. I was just kind of laying around the house doing a whole lot of nothing other than watching the guys on TV. There’s been a lot of tough times and definitely a lot of times that there’s been a bit of hope. The most important part of the whole thing was I was just trying to stay positive and try and look at the bright side of things.”
Although he has toyed with calling it quits on his playing career, Little admits that retiring wouldn’t be something he wants to see happen. In fact, he wouldn’t even use that particular word.
“I don’t like using the word ‘retirement’, because if I were done, it wouldn’t be retiring, I would be done from the injury, basically. It’s kind of been in the back of my head since it all happened. There are going to be some decisions that are going to have to be made about what’s next. That’s just something that I’m not sure of yet. I basically said that I’m not shutting the door on anything. I’ll wait as long as I can and do as many tests as I can and talk to as many specialists as I can, just try to stay positive and keep that door open. So I’m not too sure about a timeframe when I could be back or when it might be too late, all those questions. I’m kind of in the dark as much as a lot of people.”