The Darker Side of Hockey

This hasn’t been a good summer for hockey.

I guess I’m pretty much like most hockey fans, that I like a good fight (or as my friend Merkakis points out, “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.”).  I like oafs picking fights with other guys. I like penalties.  I like seeing punches thrown.

Yet, there is a very high price we pay to see those happen, with the so-called “enforcers” on the ice.  Three deaths occurred in hockey over the summer that were shocking, but also preventable and in a sense, predictable.  The Rangers own Derek Boogaard died of a drug overdose, newly retired Wade Belak and soon-to-be Winnipeg Jet Rick Rypien both committed suicide, dealing with depression (even Rypien suffered from the affliction openly and welcomed the opportunity to discuss it).

We may poke fun at certain players for being open about depression, which as the saying goes, is a flaw in chemistry not in character, but this is a very serious affliction that needs to be addressed and accepted.  Even the Mets’ Taylor Buchholz notably went on the DL midseason, claiming depression as the reason.  It makes us take a step back that perhaps these players are just like us, even if they perform on a worldwide stage and make millions.

What was also noteworthy, going back to the hockey hit men, is that if they also have a flaw in chemistry, the brain injuries they suffer as an occupational hazard gives players some pause to the very role they play on a hockey team.  As an example, Boogaard’s family has donated his brain for studies to see about the physical stress that the game tolls on their bodies, most notably their brains.

I love seeing fights, but it gives me pause, as a fan, to think about what these players go through as a result.  Sure, they wear lots of padding, helmets, protective gear, but at the end of the day, they are essentially hunters and it takes a different mindset to be an enforcer.

Specifically, the deaths of Boogaard, Rypien and Belak have shined a light on the psyche of hockey enforcers.

“It’s stressful,” said the Hawks’ John Scott, who is one of the most feared players in the league because of his fighting ability. “There’s always stress being a tough guy in the league. Every day you’re worried about fighting, keeping your job (and) getting in the lineup. It weighs on you.”

Lastly, I’ve been processing the death of the KHL Lokomotiv in a tragic plane crash last week.  It’s beyond any processes to comprehend the loss of an entire team, and even a former Ranger, Alexander Karpovtsev died in the crash.

It’s gonna be a tough year for hockey.  Friends and guys they’ve considered family have died and very tragically.  I know the saying is that the show must go on and all that.  And it will, but I will be hard pressed to find another sport with such a tragic offseason leading to question marks in how the game will be played from now on.


  1. I totally get what you are saying and it’s definitely been a sad summer for hockey. But I’d like to say that while it’s nice for sports leagues/teams/players to pay attention to how playing affects the players physically, especially when it comes to the brain, I think the hysteria surrounding this issue is unwarranted.

    I believe players need to be provided with the facts and then make decisions based on whether or not to play. I believe the NFL tried to hide the information about concussions for years and now has been forced to come clean. But I believe strongly that most players would still disregard the dangers because either they love playing the sport, they love the money and fame that comes with it or both. And if they don’t care, why should I?

  2. I see what you mean Jake, about them not caring. But it seems like something is changing in the dynamic of the sport. On one hand, hits and head injuries are almost a given in such a physical contact sport. And on the other, some players (like John Scott, who I quoted) seems to think that they are conscious of it and have to discuss it as a realistic part of an occupational hazard. I feel like a hypocrite too,since I open with “I like fights” but then I can see some of the drastic toll it takes on the players. When Jeremy Roenick is trying to be the voice of reason here, well, that’s an issue IMO (lol)

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