Little hopes to return after injuries, uncertain of future with Jets

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Bryan Little‘s future remains uncertain, but the Winnipeg Jets center said he remains patient and positive about resuming his career.

Little was limited to seven games this season after sustaining a concussion in the preseason and then being struck in the side of the head by a shot on Nov. 5. He returned to practice in January and felt he was close to returning to the lineup, but further tests and medical advice prompted him to shut down his season in February, when he had surgery to repair a perforated eardrum.

“I don’t like using the world ‘retirement’, because if I were done, it wouldn’t be retiring, I would be done from the injury, basically,” Little said Wednesday. “But like I said, it’s kind of been in the back of my head since it all happened. The first doctor I talked to brought some things up and that’s kind of been constantly in the back of my head.

“Especially in talking with my family and wife and stuff, there are some things definitely in the future, there are going to be some decisions that are going to have to be made about what’s next. I’m not really thinking about it until I know for certain and until then, I’m going to keep preparing myself to be ready, so that’s my plan.”

Little said that once his hearing and balance issues were corrected with the surgery in February, he returned to working out and staying in shape, but didn’t categorize that as training. Until the damage is fully healed on the side of his head, where the puck struck him cleanly through the ear opening of his helmet, the uncertainty lingers.

“Some of the things the doctors were saying scared me a bit,” he said. “It still does. The biggest thing I’m thinking about through this is having a healthy and long life and being cognitively all there when this is all over. Until I am told there’s not a lot of huge risk in coming back, it’s kind of just waiting and hopefully a good amount of time will change things.”

Little had five points (two goals, three assists) this season, including scoring the game-winning goal in overtime in a 2-1 victory against the Calgary Flames in the 2019 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan on Oct. 26. He was not on the Jets roster for the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, when they lost in four games to the Calgary Flames in their best-of-5 series.

Little has played his entire NHL career for the Jets/Atlanta Thrashers and has 521 points (217 goals, 304 assists) in 843 games. The 32-year-old is signed through 2023-24 with an average annual value $5.29 million.

The injury ordeal has given Little a different perspective on his career.

“You never think it’s going to happen to you,” he said. “All of a sudden, one bad luck play, one misstep, and it happens to you. If I could say one thing to a young player it’s never take it for granted. When you’re young, you think you’re going to be in the League for 20 years, and you think you’re going to be playing forever and will always be healthy. Things can change in a blink of an eye. They did for me for sure. I’m on the road to recovery. Hopefully, one day I will be back out there.”

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