Flyers’ Ciernik looking to bounce back from serious head injuries

Alex Ciernik

        VOORHEES, N.J. – Concussion complications have threatened a number of hockey careers but usually that trauma surfaces somewhere well into the timeline.

      For the Flyers’ Alex Ciernik, the danger arrived before his possible stay in the NHL even started.

      Ciernik, a fourth-round pick in last year’s draft, suffered not one but two significant head injuries last season and his recovery time limited the forward to just 26 games in the Allsvenska Hockey League.

      The 19-year-old from Wolfsburg, Germany (Slovakian descent) has been trying to use this week’s Flyers development camp to hopefully get his career back on track for the 2024-25 season.

      After Friday’s session, Ciernik talked about how difficult it was to deal with concussion symptoms.

      “It wasn’t the easiest, I didn’t play for half the year,” he acknowledged after Friday’s session at the Flyers Training Center. “It was a little bit lonely, a little tough at times. I’m just happy to be back and here with the guys.”

      Concussions can be a tricky thing. When a player suffers an initial one, doctors inform him to be a little extra careful because a second one could complicate things and make him more susceptible to a more serious injury.

      After the second concussion, Ciernik knew he would need considerable time to recover.

      “I had to be really careful, obviously,” he said. “I communicated with the Flyers, too, and made sure they knew everything and take advice from them. I know they have a lot of experience with that kind of stuff. Better to wait a few extra days than go one day early.”

      The 5-foot-10, 179-pound player said it took about a month to start feeling right again. A second month was spent gradually getting back on the ice.

      “It was about two months before I did any contact or games,” he said.

      Ciernik went through all the concussion protocols and at some point knew from sensitivity to light and sound that things weren’t quite right yet.

      “Just a headache,” he said of the last symptom. “I had to take small steps so that I wouldn’t have setbacks or anything. Just try to do the right thing.”

      Alex’s dad, Ivan, played 89 games in the NHL for Ottawa and Washington. And, you may recall, at last year’s draft, the Ciernik family tried to fly from Vienna, Austria to Nashville via New York to watch Alex get drafted. But stormy weather grounded all the New York-Nashville flights, so the Cierniks rented a car and drove. Ivan spent most of the time behind the wheel.

      “My dad played for a long time,” Alex said. “He had some problems with that (head injuries), too. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t try to be a hero and go back too early.

      “Now I just try not to put myself in bad positions. I’m not a big guy, so I have to be careful with that kind of stuff. Make sure to be not scared on the ice but at the same time be smart about it.”

      One of the key things here is to not let these types of things become a distraction. It’s hard enough to focus on hockey without worrying about what might happen.

      “After the second time, I really didn’t think about it,” he said. “I trusted that I did everything the right way. I felt that my head was doing good. So it wasn’t really a problem for me when I came back.

      “Last year I really didn’t get to show myself a lot. A lot of people counted me out because I didn’t play a lot. Head injuries are a pretty serious thing. I’m just trying to get back to how I felt before. Go from there.”

      With a productive summer under his belt, Ciernik has his confidence back at this camp.

      “I think I’m a little more comfortable this year,” he said. “I’ve had a pretty good summer here and just trying to build off of that.”

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About Wayne Fish 2473 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.