This Day In Sports History (September 1st) – Terry Fox
13 NHL Careers Cut Short By Concussions
The 2011-12 NHL season is only a month away, but people who follow the league aren’t talking about Stanley Cup contenders and pretenders, hot prospects, or big trade buzz. Instead, everyone is talking about concussions, and whether the best hockey player in the world, Sidney Crosby, will even play this year. There are even some pundits who, quietly, are discussing the possibility that Sid the Kid may never play again.
For hockey fans, that is a chilling thought. But Crosby isn’t the only concussed player whose career is in limbo. There is word out of Boston today from the Bruins’ general manager that the career long-suffering center Marc Savard is almost certainly over. Then there is the case of the Blues’ David Perron, who played only 10 games last season after being concussed on a hit by San Jose’s Joe Thornton. Like Sidney Crosby, Perron has been unable to even resume light workouts, let alone full-on hockey training.
So, as we gear up for the new NHL season, we’re more aware than ever that concussions are a big problem in the game of hockey. To give you further food for thought, we’ve compiled a list of other NHL players whose careers were ended by concussions. After you peruse the list, chances are you’ll think twice before cheering wildly for a cage-rattling hit.
13. Mike Richter
Richter was the goalie for the Rangers when they won the cup in ’94, ending the team’s famous 50 year championship drought. Unfortunately, he had to retire earlier than he wanted back in 2003 after suffering two concussions within eight months. Sure, he was almost 37-years-old, but top flight netminders can have longer shelf-lives than skaters (see Brodeur, Martin), so his forced retirement was still a shame.
12. Stu Grimson
They didn’t call him the Grim Reaper for nothing. During his 13-year NHL career, Grimson took part in over 200 fights. Unfortunately, the reaper’s pugilistic tendencies led to a number of concussions over the years. In the end it was a fight against former NHL heavyweight Georges Laraque (of the Oilers at the time) in 2001 that knocked Grimson out for good. He was never able to shake the post-concussion symptoms, so he decided to just hang up the skates.
11. Geoff Courtnall
Geoff Courtnall played 17 seasons in the NHL, so his story is hardly one you would call “tragic.” Still, before an elbow to the chin (from Bryan Berard of the Toronto Maple Leafs) gave him a nasty concussion in October of 1999, Courtnall was still going pretty strong. In his last full season, the guy had 62 points in 79 games. So he probably still had a few solid years left in the tank when the dizziness forced him to call it quits.
10. Dennis Vaske
Dennis Vaske was a journeyman defensemen who caught on with the Islanders back in the early 90s. He was almost always working through some injury or another, and he rarely played a full season. Still, that didn’t mean he was ready to just give the game up. Nevertheless, after three concussions in two years, that’s what he was forced to do in 1997 at the age of 30. Against medical advice, he attempted a comeback two years later with the Bruins, but his post-concussion symptoms returned after just 6 games and he finally let reality sink in.
9. Dave Scatchard
If you look up “NHL journeyman” in the dictionary, you won’t find anything. But, if the term were listed, right next to it you would see a picture of Dave Scatchard. The center played for six different teams over the course of his 12-year NHL career, accumulating a respectable 128 goals and 141 assists in 659 games. Sadly, even though the 35-year-old probably had a little life left in his legs, Scatchard was forced to retire in August 2011 after concussion specialists told him it would be unsafe to continue playing. Unlike some of the other players on this list, Scatchard never suffered a single catastrophic injury that became the subject of headlines on sports pages. For him, it was just the accumulation of your typical hockey run-ins.
8. Dean Chynoweth
Dean Chynoweth went back and forth between the NFL and the minor leagues during his 10-year pro hockey career. During that time, he played only 470 total games (241 in the NHL), or an average of only 47 games per year. This probably has something to do with the fact that he suffered a mind-boggling 13 concussions. How often do you get to say “mind-boggling” and mean it literally? Anyway, it’s a miracle Dean lasted as long as he did. He retired at the ripe old age of 29.
7. Keith Primeau
Now we’re getting into the all-star type players who had to cut their careers short due to persistent PCS. Keith Primeau was a three-time 30-goal scorer and, in his prime, a top power forward in the NHL. But he had to officially retire at the beginning of the 2005-2006 season at the age of 34. Unofficially, Primeau was done two years earlier at the age of 32, when he actually suffered the fourth concussion of his career. He got to sit out the entire lock-out year of 2004-2005 before having to make the decision final the next season. So with Primeau, the real story is worse than it seems. And still to this day, poor Keith experiences PC symptoms.
6. Matthew Barnaby
Scrappy Matthew Barnaby had to hang up the Bauers back in 2007 after a fight with Josh Gratton of the Phoenix Coyotes left him concussed. Luckily, he found a new gig pretty quickly. Unfortunately, not every player whose career is cut short can count on a job analyzing hockey for ESPN.
5. Scott Stevens
When you think of Scott Stevens, you usually assume he is the one dealing out the concussions. But the legendary NHL defenseman also experienced his fair share of brain trauma. That’s what finally caused him to call it a career in 2004, at the age of 39. Tragic it is not, but still notable. Even the toughest of the tough have to deal with concussions.
4. Adam Deadmarsh
Adam Deadmarsh finds himself high up on this list because concussions forced him to retire at such a young age. After only 8 full NHL seasons, the scrappy winger retired in 2005 after missing most of the 2002-2003 season and all of the 2003-2004 season. This story sounds eerily similar to that of Marc Savard, and certainly makes you a little scared for Sidney Crosby or David Perron. Hopefully they will turn out more like Pierre-Marc Bouchard of the Wild, who finally returned to the NHL last year after missing a year and a half.
3. Steve Moore
Everyone assumed that it was the broken neck that caused Steve Moore to retire after the bizarre, vicious attack by Todd Bertuzzi in 2004. However, this is not the case. The vertebrae in Moore’s neck healed just fine. It was the concussion suffered during that nasty incident that caused permanent damage. Sadly, Moore’s first full season in the NHL was also his last. He was only 26.
2. Eric Lindros
Eric Lindros was the NFL MVP back in 1995, and in 1997 he led his Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals. However, after a brutal hit from Scott Stevens during the 2000 playoffs, Lindros was never quite the same. He had one more good year in 2001-2002 for the Rangers, recording 73 points in 72 games. But after that he played 39, 33 and 49 games a season until he called it quits in 2007 at the age of 34. Now, retiring at 34 isn’t so terrible, but really his career was done at the age of 31, and that’s a bummer.
1. Pat LaFontaine
Pat LaFontaine suffered six concussions during the course of his 15-year NHL career. Now, you may say, well, 15 years is a pretty good run. But keep in mind that 5 of those years were cut significantly short by injury, and one of them was his rookie year, when he played only 15 games. So what we’re really looking at is a guy who put up 468 goals and 545 assists in just over a decade. What could LaFontaine have done with those extra 5 years lost to concussions? Hell, he was only 33 when he had to retire. For serious hockey fans, that’s tragic.