Patrick Eaves goes from darkness to the playoff spotlight

DETROIT - The situation was as bad as it could be, in some ways even worse than you could imagine.  

Patrick Eaves took a slap shot to the side of the head on November 26, 2011 and the next 14 months would prove to be the toughest he's endured as an athlete and a person.

"I was in a bad place there," said Eaves. "I knew it would take me awhile to get back to being myself again."

Eaves couldn't face the light of day.  He couldn't function as a father.  He could only stay in his newborn baby's room for a short period of time because it was just too bright.

"I didn't sleep for the first, probably, like two months, so that was probably the worst time," he said. "It was kind of my own personal hell when I'd sit there with a bad migraine and I couldn't sleep."

Most of our personal hells would lead to self doubt, questioning if the life you've dedicated yourself to for twenty years is suddenly gone.

But not Eaves.

"I knew I'd come back - I just didn't know when," he said. "I spoke with my dad; he had to end his career with concussion problems, and he said he got hit once and he knew he was done.

"From that hit, I knew I wasn't done."

Patrick's story is certainly compelling but Mike Babcock was caught right in the middle of it. The Red Wings head coach couldn't allow compassion to be a factor in deciding who to put in his lineup.

"That's a hard decision. To me, you play when you deserve to play, not because you got injured," Babcock explained.

"Patty never got a break in that way at all. Patty earned his way back. At one point to try to help him, we actually offered him to go to the minors to play a few games. He didn't want to do that."

As chance would have it, the Red Wings were plagued with injuries and Eaves stepped in.

"Next thing you know, he's back in. He's been out a little bit, but he's been in ever since and he's been a factor in these playoffs," Babcock said.

And his return to the ice has served to inspire his teammates. Another reason to win. Another reminder that determination pays off.

"It's just been a great story from how far he's come," said Justin Abdelkader. "He's playing great - some of his best hockey of his career. He's an important piece of this puzzle here in this locker room and he's been playing awesome."

Though he's not among the three finalists league-wide, Eaves was the Red Wings nominee for the Masterton Trophy, which annually recognizes a player who's overcome adversity.

"My wife, she pretty much did everything," he said. "I just sat on the couch and tried to get though the headaches and migraines. She was pregnant at the time, and we had a one year old.

"She should have been nominated more so than I. I just had the headaches and got hit in the head, so it was kind of a family nomination more than anything."

Tom Leyden is the Sports Director at WXYZ Detroit. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomLeyden .

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