By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press
Bryan Little is unsure if or when he’ll play in the NHL again.
The longest-serving player on the current edition of the Winnipeg Jets awaits confirmation that a season-ending head injury won’t pose further risk to him.
Little acknowledged the possibility his NHL career is over has “constantly been in the back of my head.”
“There’s going to be some decisions that are going to have to be made about what’s next,” he said Wednesday on a media video call.
“I’m not really thinking about it until I know for certain. Until then, I’m going to keep preparing myself to be ready. That my plan.”
The 32-year-old from Cambridge, Ont., is an original 2.0 Jet.
When the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg in 2011 and resurrected the Jets, Little arrived with the franchise that drafted him 12th overall in 2006.
The six-foot, 191-pound centre has played two-thirds of his 843 career NHL games and scored over half his 268 goals for Winnipeg.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice has described the multi-purpose forward as the type of player teams pursue at the trade deadline because he can fill many needs.
Little’s eardrum perforated when teammate Nikolaj Ehlers’ slap shot from the point struck Little directly on the ear Nov. 5 during a game against the New Jersey Devils. The Barrie Colts product didn’t play again in 2019-20.
The eardrum that required surgical repair isn’t what kept Little off Winnipeg’s roster for the NHL’s restart in July, however. The accompanying head injury makes his hockey future unclear.
“The scans and the tests have shown stuff in the pictures,” he explained. “There’s not much I can do except see how it heals and if it heals.
“The biggest thing I’m thinking about through this is having a healthy and long life and being cognitively all there when this is over.
“Until I am told there’s not a lot of huge risk coming back, it’s kind of waiting and seeing.”
Little was concussed in Winnipeg’s final pre-season game Sept. 29.
He returned to the lineup in time to score the overtime winner in the Oct. 26 outdoor Heritage Classic in Regina against the Calgary Flames.
Ten days later, Little circled out from behind the visiting Devils’ net when Ehlers’ slapshot detonated his ear drum.
Little was wearing a yellow non-contact jersey in practice by January, but a consultation with specialists at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic halted his comeback.
“To go from thinking you’re almost back in the lineup to being shut down for the rest of the year was definitely tough,” he said.
Little’s maladies limited him to seven games this season. The Jets lost to the Flames in the qualifying round last week and were eliminated from Stanley Cup contention.
If Little does play in the NHL again, he vows to wear ear guards.
“I kind of kick myself about how much that could have saved me having those in,” he said.
“Where the puck hit me, it’s kind of crazy. It didn’t even touch my helmet. It hit perfectly on my ear hole.
“I would recommend everyone wear them after what happened to me. I know it was a freak accident, but it could have saved a lot of trouble this year.”