Thursday, September 1, 2011

Death in the NHL

Derek Boogaard
Rick Rypien
Wade Belak

Those are the names of three NHL players who have all died during this summer. Three NHL players that all have something major in common besides the fact that they were professional hockey players: they were all fighters, otherwise known as “enforcers” or to use the old time hockey term, “goons”. They were all paid to go out on the ice for a few minutes of ice-time to do little more than rough up the opposition, to punch out opposing teams’ tough guys and get things going for their own team. Sheriffs of the ice in a way, and no matter what, always having a leadership impact on and off the ice.

Now all three men are dead, and the circumstances of their deaths are something else entirely.

Boogaard, in the first year of a four-year contract with the New York Rangers, died from a lethal combination of pain killers and alcohol, and was suffering from post-concussion syndrome and sat out most of his single season with the Rangers due to the injury.

Rypien, who had played parts of multiple seasons with the Vancouver Canucks and their minor league affiliate before signing with the newly resurrected Winnipeg Jets at the start of the NHL’s Free Agency period, had been said to have been a long-sufferer of depression, which is what is believed to have lead to his suicide only a few weeks ago.

Belak, a longtime and beloved pugilist who had announced his retirement from the Nashville Predators a few months ago in mid-season, was found dead last night in his condo. Belak, a husband and father, was known throughout the league as being a great guy in the locker room and outside of hockey, which makes his apparent suicide all the more baffling for the time being.

What the hell is going on in the NHL with its enforcers? All three players had varying degrees of injury history, with Boogaard being the only one that had major concussion issues, but the fact that all three died within such a short time of each other just makes things all the more heartbreaking, and all the more head-scratching as well. Does living the life of being an NHL goon take a toll on a person that no one can ever really know?

Only a few months ago, legendary tough guy Bob Probert passed away as well. Probert, who had substance abuse issues while he played in the NHL, desired that his brain be donated to science to be studied for the effects that concussions have on the human brain, after suffering a few himself during his career, a number of which being undiagnosed. Even before Probert passed away, and before any of these three players’ lives were cut short, the NHL was finally starting to take a serious look at the issue of concussions in the sport. Just this past year alone, we’ve seen players like Marc Savard (whose career looks like it’s over) and Max Pacioretty (who was the subject of a past blog after being almost two steps away from getting assfucked by Zdeno Chara’s hockey stick) suffered major concussions, as did league superstar and NHL poster child Sidney Crosby, who is still suffering lingering effects months later and is unknown when he’ll be able to play again after suffering what may be multiple concussions in a short amount of time.

The concussion issue is one thing the NHL needs to handle, and believe it or not, so is substance abuse. American football is certainly a brutal sport, but there is no other major North American sport that sees its players down painkillers like the NHL. It’s understandable, it’s not like many regular people could survive and absorb a hit from a guy like Shea Weber without feeling a little tingle, but the link between massive injuries that go undiagnosed and the use of painkillers is something that needs to be handled right the fuck right now by the NHL. Don’t believe me? Ask Eric Lindros or Paul Kariya what it’s like to get multiple concussions and still keep coming back. Look at Theo Fleury’s career often playing better drunk than his teammates could sober. It’s a problem that’s always existed in the league in one form or another; it’s just now that the situation is finally coming to light.

It’s just a shame that it’s come to this to make people and the league finally take notice as to just what the fuck is going on here.

Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak; R.I.P.

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