Sudden Deaths Signal It’s No Time To Look Away

To those who believe the sudden deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and now Wade Belak are only a mere morbid coincidence, you can stop reading. Those who think it is time to raise questions and not turn away, please continue.

This past Monday night I participated in a podcast with Chris Block from the Third Man In. Before the show Chris sent me a few audio clips which were from recent interviews done at the Fan 590 in Toronto. The interviews with former NHL players Dave Scatchard and current Montreal Canadien, Mike Cammalleri are a must listen.

As far as I know the two interviews have not received much attention thus far and that is troubling, but not shocking. It is always easier to look away rather than face a potential uncomfortable situation.

In many ways the NHL is flourishing. Hockey is more entertaining than ever and the league finally has a national TV contract worth mentioning. Maybe everyone is too comfortable to quickly address the need for an enhanced drug testing program. Concussion concerns are part of the problem but not the entire issue.

As hockey fans we want to be entertained. Sports fans in general focus more on wins and losses. Maybe that’s why the interviews which were done over a week ago have not received much attention, at least not here in the States.

Sometimes glaring issues which should be noticed are seemingly ignored.

Did anyone really believe Sammy Sossa naturally morphed into a hulk that could destroy a baseball?

Did anyone find it odd as Barry Bonds raced after Hank Aaron’s homerun record his head seemingly grew to the size of a basketball?

In my view it is not a tragic coincidence there was a drug related death and apparently two suicides this summer which claimed the lives of young men who played in the NHL. I’m not sure what specific actions need to be taken but this is not the time for anyone to bury their head in the sand.

Cammalleri gave a strikingly candid interview on the Fan 590….Interview_Michael-Cammalleri-jv-20110825

He remarked the hockey lifestyle can lead to a cycle of drug dependency. Cammalleri wasn’t talking about cocaine or recreational drug use. He was focused on the use of uppers and downers to get a player ready to perform, pills which are easily accessible.

In my view the apparent abuse of oxycodone by Boogaard can also be lumped into a players attempt to quickly return to the ice. A quick fix may come from a bottle but over time the drugs cause much more harm than good.

Sometimes it easy to ignore the obvious and in the big money world of professional sports the pressure to perform is an undeniable influence.

Hockey players, like no other athlete are hardwired to compete and continue to play even when their health is in question. It would not be a stretch to say a NHL player is more at risk to compromise his well- being than others in professional sports. By their very nature a hockey player is all about the team.

In the Scatchard interview he comments about being able to game the system to quickly return from a concussion. Scatchard admitted he gave the necessary answers to test questions but not always the correct replies.

Not to point a finger at team physicians but they have a familiarity with their own player. Maybe it is more unlikely to get an honest answer from one of their own. It appears a team physician could be caught in a compromising situation.


Fortunately, Scatchard was convinced recently his professional hockey career was over due to head injuries. His interview is worth the time for any concerned hockey fan. Scatchard biggest concern these days is to be able to function normally as a father of three young children.

Here is the link for Monday night’s podcast….2011_Aug29_TTMIRadio_e87_AlCimaglia_UppersDowners…We did chime in with some meaningful Hawk talk as well.

Chris shares some pointed views about the current drug policy. I mentioned it would be better to have a doctor employed by the NHL to conduct tests on concussed players. In any event the checks and balances need to be enhanced in both areas.

It is so much easier to be entertained than concerned.
But now is not the time to look away.

Share this nice post:

Filed Under: Chicago BlackhawksFeaturedNHLSenior Correspondents


About the Author:

RSSComments (16)

Leave a Reply | Trackback URL

  1. Adrian Fung says:

    Al: I get the horrible feeling that this tragic summer is just the tip of the iceberg. As is often the case, there may be a much larger problem that has existed for a long time behind closed doors of the locker rooms than anyone could imagine.

    Just like in MLB when PEDs were used secretly from approx. 1987-2002, and finally the truth came spilling out when it became too obvious to not notice, I wonder if the next few years in the NHL will be like that – will some players come forward in light of these tragedies to call for more psychosocial or substance abuse counselling to help players not spiral down to demise and suicide?

  2. Al Cimaglia says:

    Unfortunately I am feeling like you.

    I wasn’t shocked to hear the comments from either player but after it settled in ….I began to think things are worse than most realize.

  3. Fred Poulin says:

    Keith Primeau recently said that he is still haunted by concussions and that he’s having problems training, even lightly because of that! Check the Website for prevention and awareness tips about concussions in general.

  4. Al Cimaglia says:


    Thanks for the link,the two issues can go hand in hand.

    Concussions are big problem and can also lead to drug abuse.

    Cammalleri commented about a lifestyle which can lead to drug abuse.

    Scatchard spoke of gaming the test to return early from a concussion.

    That’s strong stuff by players who know.

  5. Grinder says:

    >Sad, sad, sad
    >Many, many documented links between quitting PEDs and subsequent suicides — especially with athletes that fly under the radar — such as high schooler and collegiate ones who are not national superstars
    >I, for one, would love a shorter season — so that NHL players have more time between games — but alas that is pipedream, for sure
    >A core issue in professional sports today is that too many people are making money from a particular sport that have little or nothing to do with the actual playing of the sport — they are all for longer seasons and no rest — what do they care — they are not putting their health at risk
    >One could make a strong case that the rise of tv sport superstations such as ESPN have actually greatly hurt sport itself
    >Now our Blackhawks have become the darlings of national tv — wonder how THAT scheduling will impact the health and performance of our players?

  6. Al Cimaglia says:

    I think the reference by Cammalleri concerning how the hockey lifestyle can lead to a cycle of drug dependency says it all.

  7. Bob Fowler says:

    Al, I agree that drugs and the macho attitude are key factors in the rash of drug abuse and deaths, but, here is something simple that could eliminate much of this problem. Make all NHL rink change to international ice size.

    If the ice surface is bigger, skilled, faster players will be needed. Plodding bruisers will be phased out. You can’t hit what you can’t catch. And for those guys like Cooke, who headhunt, first cheap hit gets you a mandatory year, second hits gets you life.

    Another simple rule that would eliminate many unnecessary injuries would require that the blade of the stick may never go above the waistline (except while shooting). Stick blades belong on the ice, not chopping down across someone’s wrist or forearm. Players will need to develop hockey skills, and not need black belts in karate.

    • Al Cimaglia says:

      I like suggestion #2.

      As far as making the ice surface larger …That will be the last thing to happen.

      I would go as far as to say the amount of players on the ice would change before the playing surface is made larger.

      For a number reasons…Foremost because with the elimination of seats a lot of revenue would go out the window.

      There aren’t many teams now able to swing a profit…
      So that isn’t going to happen.

      • Bob Fowler says:

        I totally realize that losing rink side seats will never be considered, but it would be the easiest way to assure safety of players. Now of course, what is really more important, revenue or players?

        We can always make more rules, and safer equipment, but, as Gretzky said years ago, the equipment is responsible for the injuries. Players are willing to go a step further because the equipment will protect them better, and so they never learn how to protect themselves while on the ice.

        I love the game, but they really have to do something to eliminate the unskilled from being able to disable the skilled.

        • Al Cimaglia says:

          Most people who watch hockey find the int’l game not as exciting.

          The bottom line is the most important to the owners and the NHL and seats won’t be taken out.

          No doubt equipment modifications has happned too slow and hasn’t represented enough change.

  8. Living the Cup says:

    Hey Al – this rash of deaths is tragic to say the least. What a waste of lives particularly by people who by ordinary standards have so much.

    IMO these 3 incidences shine a revealing light on the bloodlust of the NHL. I’m sure they have been turning a blind eye to drug dependency, depression etc. while they attempt to turn a profit.

    It’s the same ‘nothing matters but the bottom line’, the Age of Greed type attitude that has resulted in the recent and ongoing recession that the NHL exhibits in all ethical matters.

    I will be shocked if they do anything really substantial to prevent these sort of tragedies from being repeated (like perhaps eliminating fighting from the game, or eliminating head shots) unless they see that paying customers are turning against them.

    Unfortunately the league administration reminds me of the bosses in that old James Caan movie ‘Rollerball’.

  9. rock says:

    Anyone who has played any sport at a competitive level can relate to the tolls it takes on your body. 3/games per week at 100% is a lot.

    Diet and proper training really only go so far. Seeing top players have dips in their performance should not be unexpected like it is.

    Think about running an 8k at “race” pace 3 days a week. Then compound that by starts, stops lateral movement and stability hockey requires along with being constantly hammered by the other teams players. Add training every day…

    The doldrums of a long season = uppers. Getting motivated to go out every single day with travel and physical strain involved gets exhausting.

    Recovering from an injury tomorrow can be difficult especially if it is chronic. Boosting testosterone levels (even slightly) is a quick way to aid recovery.

    Nagging injuries hurt, real easy to pop a pill, real easy to pop more pills when your body becomes dependent on them. Most of those pain medications are Morphine based or a derivative of which is similar to quitting smoking when you get hooked. Which is very very very very difficult if you are a current or former smoker, you can relate.

    And like anything else some players will be affected very negatively while others will have marginal issues. No one cared about concussions until Crosby got knocked out. Unless some high profile players get bused substance abuse it is a long shot. The NHL is in a position right now where they are gaining some traction and that type of news would kill their momentum.

    Hopefully they make the right decision but I don’t see that happening now. The league is to competitive, especially for the lower end players, for some of them to step up and do things the right way. They can either sit out injured and have someone replace them or they can play hurt and get paid. And if the top tier players aren’t on the ice they’re leaving a lot of money on the table.

    I by no means condone that policy to increase revenue but I think there are more morally disinclined individuals involved than we would like to believe.

  10. Al Cimaglia says:

    Just a quick training camp note…

    On the camp roster Olesz is listed as being on Injured Reserve.

    • Al Cimaglia says:

      ….Olesz is listed as IR because camp rosters are generated by the NHL.

      Olesz finished the season on the IR…thus the designation.

  11. CBH1619 says:

    Al, did you hang up the keyboard and mouse??? Hope to see a blog up on Saturday with your thoughts and feelings on the first game.