Franzen ‘grinding it’ for health test

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — When the media entered the Red Wings dressing room for the first time since April, Johan Franzen was playfully grumpy.

“What?” he said, looking up from his dressing stall. “What is this? What just happened?”

Franzen, other Red Wings and some local players from other teams stripped off their sweaty jerseys after the first informal skate of the late summer to which the media had access.

“We are having this, already?” Franzen asked. “Who said?”

Franzen, 35, knew he would be topic No. 1. If there was any doubt, it dissipated when writers, producers and photographers all entered the room and immediately approached him.

He has sustained a series of concussions during his 10-year career, and played in 33 games last season — the last one nine months ago.

He has not scored more than 20 goals in three seasons, mostly due to injuries.

“Are you going to come back tomorrow?” Franzen asked, smiling as he stood to respond to questions.

Told it was likely the case, he tipped his hat gracefully to the topic at hand.

“Well,” Franzen joked, “if my head can take this ... ”

And then, for seven minutes, the big forward talked candidly and expansively about a decision that is increasingly difficult for athletes — but especially in the big contact games like football and hockey.

Franzen would like to play more. He is not certain he can, or should.

He said he is pressing the issue, physically, trying to achieve some certainty in an area in which doctors say there remains considerable mystery: The function of the brain.

So what about his offseason decision to play?

“Did I make the decision?” he asked, making his circumstances plain.

“Well, it feels good, so far. It’s probably too early to tell, though, until I start playing games.

“I’m going at it pretty hard, trying to go a little bit too much, now, actually, just to see that I can take it. Grinding it.”

How happy was he to be back on the ice? After a scoring a goal in some simulated play, Franzen let out a yelp, skidded to his knees on the ice, and pirouetted a couple of times.

He appears mindful of the risks and confident in the decision to try to play again.

He said his target is to play Opening Night.

“That’s the plan,” he said. “If I keep feeling like I do now, I think it should work.”

If it all sounds a bit touch-and-go, it is.

While the next step is the bump-and-grind of full-out play, which will come with training camp in Traverse City, Franzen sounded confident because of the course of his recovery.

“The main issue has been the exertion,” Franzen said. “When I get really tired, that is when the head’s been shutting down. So, if I can take that, I feel that I can take a few bumps, too.

“Right now, it’s just getting really exhausted out there, and see if you can take that.”

But his work must account for mysteries in medicine, and Franzen bowed to that reality when he said of his approach, “I don’t know if it is smart.”

He gets treatment. Proper nutrition is an important component of his efforts, he said.

“My threshold is getting higher and higher every week, so I try to listen to my body and push as hard as I can,” he said. “But, if I have a setback, I let up and start from scratch, again.

“But it’s been building up, a bit, ever since the playoffs.”

Asked if he considers retiring, Franzen said, “I haven’t been there, yet, really, in my thoughts.

“It’s been tough years, the last two or three, with the injuries and the head. I just want to have a good year, and I want to decide on my own, when I quit.

“But, no, I’m excited to try to get back, and I’m excited to have a good year.”

He has talked to his family, he said.

“They don’t want to see me like I was,” he said of the early weeks of his recovery. “But, I don’t think they want to see me grumpy and at home, and not being able to play, either.

“I think they’re happy I am improving, and looking forward to playing another year — or five.”

Niklas Kronwall and Justin Abdelkader said they were happy to have Franzen back.

“It’s awesome,” Kronwall said. “He’s working hard. He’s happy. He just wants to play.

Asked about the risks Franzen runs, however, Kronwall said, “I really don’t want to think too much about it. I think we’ve all had those thoughts, regarding his health, of course.

“At the same time I hope that we can all just let that go, let him do his thing and hopefully he feels good and can go out there and come back to his old self.”