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Bancks was money for Heat this season
If you're wondering why Carter Bancks was wildly popular within the Abbotsford Heat dressing room this season, his performance on March 25 against the Manitoba Moose pretty well sums it up.
Just past the midway point of the second period, the 21-year-old forward took exception to a hit on Ryan Stone by Manitoba's Yann Sauve.
Bancks, a baby-faced rookie listed at 5'11", 180 pounds, waded in to drop the gloves with Sauve, despite giving up four inches and 40 pounds to the hulking Moose blueliner.
The decision to come to a teammate's aid, while gritty, wouldn't have rated as particularly memorable under normal circumstances. But in light of the fact it was Bancks's first game back in the Heat lineup after missing 51 games due to concussion symptoms, it was either extremely brave or reckless. Probably both.
Bottom line – Bancks's instinct to stand up for a teammate is woven so tightly into his hockey DNA, it completely defused his self-preservation instinct.
"That might not have been the smartest thing I've ever done," he conceded with a wry grin during a recent interview. "You just get caught up in the flow and intensity of the game.
"I stepped in, and once I was in it, I realized he was a big boy. I was thinking I probably shouldn't stand up and throw haymakers, so I just tried to throw a couple (quick punches) and pull him down.
"It might not be what the doctors would suggest. After the game, the coaches told me I might want to be a little smarter there."
The directive to do a better job protecting his cranium was one of the few pieces of negative feedback Bancks received from the Heat coaching staff this season.
The Marysville, B.C. native was limited to 29 games by the concussion, but he made a huge impact when he was on the ice. He posted 19 points (five goals, 14 assists), which left him with the second-best points-per-game rate (0.66) on the team, trailing only Ales Kotalik (0.88).
Additionally, his +4 rating made him one of only six regulars who finished the season with the Heat on the positive side of the plus-minus ledger. The others were Kotalik (+6), T.J. Brodie (+3), Quintin Laing (+2), Gaelan Patterson (+1) and Joe Piskula (+1).
Head coach Jim Playfair suggested towards the end of the regular season that if Bancks had been in the lineup all year long, the Heat would be in the playoffs, perhaps as high as first place in the North Division.
While that sentiment might sound like hyperbole, Playfair's admiration for Bancks's game is utterly sincere.
"He's that much of an impact player," Playfair asserted. "Not having him all year hurt us as much as any of the players we didn't have. For me personally, Carter's a real important player in our group because he competes so hard."
As Bancks looks back on his 2010-11 campaign, he says he's "extremely happy" with how things went individually. The caveat, of course, is all the time he missed due to the head injury.
He was originally concussed after absorbing a high hit from Steven Kampfer during a Nov. 12 road game against the Providence Bruins. Kampfer was given a one-game suspension for the check.
Bancks made a spectacular return to the lineup on Dec. 7 against the Lake Erie Monsters, scoring a key goal and earning first star honours in a 3-2 shootout win.
He didn't absorb any big hits during that game, but in the third period and in the hours afterward, the worst of his concussion symptoms returned – namely, a pressurized feeling in his head, accompanied by nausea.
In retrospect, Bancks says he came back too soon. But it was his first concussion, and he simply didn't know how to analyze the symptoms.
"It was 100 per cent my fault because with concussions, obviously a doctor and trainer can't diagnose it completely because it's all in how you feel," he said.
"When it goes on for a while with a concussion, you kind of have to remember what you felt like before and what normal is.
"Looking back, I might have still had a couple symptoms that were lingering, and maybe should have left it for a couple weeks after that. You live and you learn, I guess."
Finally returning in March was a huge accomplishment for Bancks, in the sense he was able to prove to himself he was all right.
But at that point, his fitness wasn't where he wanted it to be – a product of spending the better part of four months on the couch during his convalescence. So the first order of business for Bancks this summer is getting his cardiovascular level back to where it needs to be.
"This year, I feel like I showed I can be a successful forward in this league, and I've just got to continue to blossom," he said. "I've also got to put on weight, but I don't want to lose quickness and speed. I want to stay fast. As I mature and fill out, I think I'll be able to do that. I've just got to work really hard."
Another item on Bancks's to-do list this summer is signing a new contract. The undrafted forward, who played his WHL hockey with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, joined the Heat at the tail end of the 2009-10 season on an amateur tryout contract. He also inked a one-year AHL deal for the 2010-11 campaign at that point.
He'll be an unrestricted free agent as of July 1, and while he'd welcome a two-way NHL contract, he's just waiting to see how everything plays out.
"I'd love to play here again, but it's just a matter of what happens," Bancks noted.
"If Calgary's interested, I would love that. I grew up a Flames fan, and if it ends up working that way, I'd be thrilled. But I've just got to be patient."