Boo Nieves was in decidedly high spirits on Monday, flashing a smile as he left the ice and unstrapped his helmet.
Heading into the final game of the New York trip in October, Nieves was off to one of the hottest starts of his four-year career at Michigan. The senior forward had two points in three games and was tremendous at both ends while centering the Wolverines’ top-scoring line.
All that momentum came to a screeching halt with a concussion Nieves sustained in a win against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Oct. 24. Nieves didn’t practice for the rest of the week and was relegated to the bench for a home series against Robert Morris the following weekend.
Junior forward Justin Selman and freshman forward Kyle Connor missed the presence of their center against the Colonials; the pair of wings tallied only one point on the weekend.
“We were rotating the third guy in, which is always a little bit of a challenge — trying to find the chemistry each shift with a different guy,” Selman said. “Boo brings a ton of speed to the game, he brings a ton of puck possession and he’s a big body out there. It’s going to be good to have him back.”
The time away wasn’t easy on Nieves, either. The mental exhaustion that can accompany concussions is well documented.
“It’s very frustrating,” Nieves said. “Even in practice, it’s tough sitting there watching them do what you want to do. I think the best way to stay with it is watching practice and being around the guys. I wasn’t around them for the first two days last week, and I started to feel a little out of the loop.”
Once his symptoms started to dissipate, Nieves was glad to hang around the team more, saying it made him feel better about being left out of the lineup. He returned to practice Monday, confirming that he didn’t have any symptoms on or off the ice.
Now appearing outgoing with a disarming smile, the lonely center doing homework at practice last week seems like a distant memory. Nieves is just happy to be talking hockey, giving his take on Saturday’s loss.
“The second game was tough,” Nieves said. “We did look a little sluggish out of the gate, but it’s going to happen. We just couldn’t find a way back.
“It’s also easy to sit out and watch from above and critique everything.”
There is still progress to be made before Nieves can start taking contact in practice, and concussions have a nasty habit of recurring in hockey. With a two-week break, though, both Nieves and Michigan coach Red Berenson seem confident that the center will make it back for a home game against Niagara on Nov. 13.
For now, Nieves is content just to be back on the ice.
“Practice was the best part of my day, easily,” Nieves said.