February 9, 2011

'All I've Wanted to Do is Play'

by Neil Stevens | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

After suffering a series of concussive hits and missing the 2010 season, Dan Carey is back on the floor for the Colorado Mammoth, hoping to restore a once-promising NLL career.

© Michael Martin

Dan Carey won't be content to come back just to fill a sweater. He wants to be one of the best lacrosse players on the planet, just like he used to be.

Carey, having finally found his way through the cobwebs of concussions, played his first game with the Colorado Mammoth in nearly two years on Saturday.

"I was pretty nervous," said the 28-year-old Canadian from Peterborough, Ontario. "It was emotional.

"I spent a lot of time thinking and rethinking during the week and prior to the game and during the game. Lacrosse is extremely important to me. I had it taken away from me, and that's why I was nervous coming back. All I've wanted to do is to play."

Carey was on the National Lacrosse League all-rookie team in 2006. He scored 17 goals and assisted on 45 for 62 points. The Mammoth, then coached by Gary Gait, won the Champion's Cup. Carey was in seventh heaven. Later that year, he was named Mann Cup MVP after helping his home-city Peterborough Lakers win the Canadian senior amateur championship.

The next season, Carey again appeared in all 16 regular-season NLL games and scored 32 goals and assisted on 44 for a team-best 76 points. He was on Canada's team that won the world indoor championship, and he helped the Lakers repeat as Mann Cup champions.

It couldn't get any better than that. But it did get worse.

During the 10th game of the 2008 NLL season, Carey was hit hard and high during a game in Portland, Ore. He played the next gam, but couldn't finish the season. He played the first four games in 2009 and got hurt again. He got into one more game, and that was it. He was feeling well enough to rejoin the Lakers for the 2009 summer season, but another high hit in the playoffs put him back on the shelf. He missed the entire 2010 NLL season.

Carey reappeared Saturday night, and he said the welcome he received from Colorado fans when he was introduced before his first game with the Mammoth in nearly two years was a huge lift.

"It was real nice," he said. "I wasn't sure if they'd remember me."

"Denver is an amazing city to play in. The fans are just amazing," Carey added. "It hasn't been great for them in the wins column at home, but they're extremely supportive. You get to interact and meet with them, and you realize that they're huge Mammoth fans. It's nice to have that kind of support. That made it easier for me to come back."

Carey lives in Peterborough and takes courses at a teachers' college.

He came agonizingly close to getting credit for a goal Saturday. With his back to the goal, he spun and whipped the ball into the Washington net just under the crossbar. But the 30-second shot counter expired a split second before the ball entered the net.

"I knew when I shot it that it wasn't a goal," Carey said. "I could see the shot clock. I wasn't disappointed that it wasn't a goal, but I was disappointed when we lost that game that we didn't have that one at the end."

Carey said h's just happy to be part of it again.

"I'm really glad I'm back playing," he said. "I missed being a part of a team, being part of the culture with the guys -- everything about it.

"I hope it doesn't take too long to get back into the swing of things. I was squeezing the stick and thinking too much. As the games go on, I'm not going to have any excuses. I have to work to get back to where I was when I left. I wouldn't be playing if I didn't think I could do that."

All Carey's asking for now, after all he's been through, is respect from his peers.

"I'm not a dirty player," he said. "I have respect for guys I play against. Hopefully, other guys will have that same feeling towards me."

In other words, keep the sticks down, guys.

"When you come to concussions, it's tough to deal with mentally," Carey said. "You have to stay positive. It's tough not playing. You have to debate with yourself whether you're going to play again or not. But nobody has ever told me to give it up, and I've had some treatments lately that have really turned things around."

Carey credits treatments he has received from Kevin Hickey at a Peterborough clinic, Total Physiotherapy, with completing his recovery. An emphasis on his neck has paid off.

"It's been huge," he said. "I wasn't sure I'd be able to play this year but after a couple of treatments... it was incredible."

Carey said there were no negative effects from playing Saturday.

"I feel great," he said. "It was tough losing, of course. We'll have to get that turned around."

Being reunited with fellow Peterborough product John Grant Jr., with whom he shared Mann Cup triumphs, is a plus.

"To have that connection in Denver, playing with Junior, is exciting. He's always been a player I looked up to," Carey said. "I'm happy he's in a Mammoth jersey and I get to play with him. Hopefully we can do some damage together."

Mammoth GM Steve Govett said he's thrilled about Carey's return.

"We're ecstatic," Govett said. "It was a special moment when he got introduced and the crowd gave him such an amazing reception.

"We're proud of the way he's conducted himself through all of this. He's worked hard to get back. We're proud of our staff, the way they've treated him as he's dealt with a difficult situation. We're hoping that's behind us."

Neil Stevens has covered professional and Canadian summer lacrosse since 1971 for various media outlets, including the Canadian Press. He retired from the CP in 2008. That year, Stevens joined the late Tom Borrelli -- a longtime Lacrosse Magazine contributor -- as the only media members recognized by the National Lacrosse League Hall of Fame. He played from age 5 to 23, including three years in the junior ranks and one year (1969) as a professional in St. Catherines, Ontario.

Check laxmagazine.com/nll throughout the season for more from Stevens and coverage of the NLL.

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