From NHL players tripping at Pink Floyd concerts to fatally overdosing, the substance abuse misadventures of pro pucksters runs the gamut on this sad list of self-destruction. And there may be more tragedy on the way. This past February, a devastating in-depth report was published by Swedish outlet Expressen that took an investigative look at the ongoing, insidious spread of hard drugs and excessive drinking that bedevils the sport. One issue is Canada's culture of drinking--as a staggering (pun intended) 80 percent of Canadians imbibe alcohol, and that is certainly is ingrained (once more, pun intended) in the subculture of hockey. Sometimes so much so that is becomes part and parcel of too many players' everyday life and routine.
Combine that with the social conformity endemic to the nature of the sport--a "team game" that demands camaraderie, and being part of that group dynamic means there’s always a beer in your face (and maybe even a line under your nose). And if you choose not to party along, you could be subject to social ostracization. Especially if you’re not a high-caliber, and are more marginal, which describes the majority of players on this list, including many enforcers, aka "goons" whose bodies took a beating night in, night out. Depression, which is not limited to athletes, also played a role in some of these real-life horror stories.
Let this list serve as a stern reminder to all up-and-coming players to avoid the predictable pratfalls of daily drinking and hard drug use (let alone abuse). However, they should settle for knocking back a craft beer or two. Players should leave “bumping lines” and “chugging Jack” for the frat parties of yesteryear. So here then, are 15 lessons to be learned--the hard way:
20 DEREK BOOGARD
Suffice it to say that getting, not merely an article, but an entire book written about your life and death is going to land you pretty high on this here list. And there’s really no harsher lesson learned than premature death--indeed, it is the final lesson, with no last chance to correct the mistakes made. Such is the sad, tragic case of our first entry, who died May 13, 2011 in Minneapolis from a lethal cocktail of alcohol and Oxycodone, the opiate painkiller.
As exposed SI, it was frighteningly easy for Boogard to obtain prescription drugs, a further indictment of a twisted society that encourages addiction. Boogard's tragic tale was also archived in a 2014 book entitled Boy on Ice. This gigantic--6’7”, 265 pound--winger only managed 16 measly points and a cumulative -12 plus/minus in his 6-year career, five with the Minnesota Wild and one unremarkable year in New York. But his life and death story, as immortalized in print, will endure.
17 RYAN MALONE
Stop us if you’ve heard this before---an athlete is busted for drugs, but he’s “baffled” as to how the contraband ever got into his possession--specifically, when the police find a baggie of cocaine in said athlete's own pocket! Per Tampa Bay Times, that's just what happened to then-Lightning left-winger Ryan Malone in April 2014, who responded, “Oh my God” when a cop just happened to pull 1.3 grams of cocaine out of his pocket. Nice try, Ryan. Although he was quick to tell the arresting officer he wasn't accusing the cops of planting the party powder on him (Malone). Then where exactly was Malone suggesting the coke came from? Who knows--we'll just file that under "O.J.'s search for the real killers." The Lightning subsequently dumped Malone, who went on to play a meaningless six games for the New York Rangers in 2015-16 before hanging up the skates.
16 MIKE RICHARDS
This first round pick (24th overall) could have done so much more with his talents. Richards was fortunate to play for good teams; the Philadelphia Flyers that went the to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010, as well as the L.A. Kings’ Stanley Cup winning teams (2012, 2014). But apparently, Richards celebrated that second Cup just a little too much, as his stint in Tinsel Town abruptly ended in in June 2014 when his Kings' contract was terminated following his bust at the Canadian border with controlled opiate Oxycodone.
After being out of the game for a year, Richards resurfaced in Washington to log 12 games for the Capitals that no one will remember anytime soon, even if it did allow Richards the slight satisfaction of playing NHL hockey again after his drug downfall.
15 BRIAN McGRATTAN
Another NHL enforcer--another serious substance abuse issue. We sense a pattern here. McGrattan's penalty minutes always dwarfed his meager offensive production, but by the time he sobered up, he lost a year of playing time. Of course, it's wonderful for "Grats" to serve as inspiration for up-and-coming players but what about his own career? McGrattan spoke of the "three or four day benders" he would go on with drinking and drugs.
It took a 65-day stint in a alcohol rehab facility before McGrattan could go out into the world on his own, clean and sober. Looking back, he considers it the hardest experience in his entire life. Let's hope those issues are behind him and that he's able to live a sober life from here on out.
14 DEVIN SETOGUCHI
Setoguchi blames the beginnings of his raging alcoholism after he was demoted by the Calgary Flames to the play for the AHL-- minor-league hockey franchise the Adirondack Flames-- in Glen Falls, New York during the 2014-15 season. Perhaps Devin allowed the personal shame of being sent down from the big-time to serve as a justification for his excessive drinking. Or perhaps it was the boredom of being stuck in a population-14,000 small town, with their biggest claim to fame being hosting the first ever Phish Halloween musical costume concert on Halloween 1994.
The six-foot right-winger Setoguchi was originally content with beers, but then after hanging out at a Glen Falls bar with a lonely widower who preferred Jameson whiskey, Setoguchi switched vices until he was downing two 26-ounce bottles of the blended Irish whiskey on a daily basis. His addiction got so bad he was advised to keep drinking until he checked into rehab, otherwise the withdrawal symptoms could kill him.
13 DON MURDOCH
Contrary to many players to come on this list, Murdoch was no random goon, but rather a skilled offensive player who was the sixth overall pick in the 1975 NHL Draft by the New York Rangers. Murdoch's first two seasons were solid with 56 and 55 points, respectively. But then Murdoch almost blew everything, as he was suspended for the entire 1978-79 season after being arrested for possession of 4.5 grams cocaine stuffed in his sock after the 1977 offseason.
Murdoch ranks lower on this list because he did enjoy some post-drug success; his suspension was reduced to 40 games (half a season), enabling him to rejoin the Rangers and tally a highly productive 37 points in the 40 remaining games. Murdoch followed that up by racking up 12 total points in 18 playoff games as the "Rags" went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals before bowing the Habs. Murdoch tallied 12 total points in 18 games during the Rangers postseason drive. Needless to say, if Murdoch doesn't get that suspension reduced, it's doubtful the Rangers had such a miracle season. But he came so close to blowing it all.
12 DEREK SANDERSON
Sanderson was a member of the Boston Bruins two-time title winning teams (1970, 1972), who sported a classic ‘70’s mustache, long before his downfall began after being cut by the putrid 1977 Vancouver Canucks. Sanderson himself revealed how he wound up homeless, pathetically swiping pints of vodka from the local liquor stores in New York City. He blamed his subsequent three-year bender on a "pretty girl" who stole his cash, but that sounds more like a rationalization for becoming a party monster. Even during his playing days, Sanderson went at it hard; besides booze, the six-foot center indulged in Valium and "bennies" (Benzedrine, the first pharmaceutical drug to contain amphetamine). Sanderson went through detox 13 times--which only dealt with the physical dependence--- before finally confronting the deeper psychological aspects of his addiction head-on in rehab. Sanderson is now clean-and-sober.
11 MIKE RIBEIRO
Our next entry on this list of pro hockey letdowns features a more recent development. As revealed by Hockey Feed this past May, the 17-year career of Nashville Predator’s center Ribeiro may have permanently gone down the drain due to another relapse into alcoholism. Ribeiro’s inability to break from the bottle lead the Predators to demote him to AHL Milwaukee, while rumors ran wild that Ribeiro was a distraction in the locker room.
Even Ribeiro’s agent Bob Perno admitted that his client’s career may be over due to this latest regression. Ribeiro missed out in the Predators’ daring run this past postseason, going all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals before bowing to the dynastic Pittsburgh Penguins. There’s always the possibility that aborting Ribeiro from the team sufficiently solidified the Preds’ chemistry, fueling their run to the Finals, so perhaps it worked out for the best. That is, except for Mr. Ribeiro.
10 JERE KARALAHTI
Pills and booze are like kid’s stuff to Karalahti, the Finnish defender who lasted but two and a half years with the L.A. Kings before 15 forgotten games with the woeful Nashville Predators. Karahahti attributes his introduction to the drug culture to a tribe of "First Nation" indigenous people who invited Jere to their reservation where they proceeded to smoke an assortment of drugs and then contemplate the sky. That little excursion lead to Karalahti picking up the nickname "Chief" from teammates. Always seeking a new high, Karalahti took the hallucinogen LSD at a Pink Floyd concert in Germany, before picking up the delightful habit of smoking heroin.
He preferred smoking over needles so that teammates wouldn't see track marks on his arms. However, Karalahti couldn't hide the impact substance abuse had on his career, which lead to his early exit from the NHL after the 2001-02 season.
9 BRANTT MYHRES
While Brantt's story ultimately has an upside, there's no denying the damage that booze and drugs did to his life and pro hockey career, including suffering the ultimate punishment--banishment from the NHL. After failing four drug tests and being hit with suspensions, Myhres was booted from the league for good after the 2002-03 campaign. Myhres was hired by the L.A. Kings in 2015 to serve as the director of player assistance. Perhaps they should have had such a resource back when Brantt used to lace up the skates, but at least Myhres was able to share his life experience with the other substance abusing King on this list, Mike Richards and as well as one we didn't include, Jarret Stoll, once busted for cocaine, but now married to superstar sideline reporter Erin Andrews.
7 RICH CLUNE
When Clune came up with the Los Angeles Kings for the 2009-10 season, he seemed primed to have an eventful career. However, habitual cocaine and alcohol abuse were bubbling beneath the surface of potential greatness. Per a candid July 2015 piece in The Players Tribune simply titled "The Battle" and authored by Clune himself, the 2005 third-round pick of the Dallas Stars flat-out admitted, “By time I was 19 years old. I was using cocaine weekly. If you saw me...you would have thought, ‘Look at that kid. He’s living the dream.’ What you wouldn’t see is me waking up shaking in my bed, my nose bleeding all over the pillow.” A charming image, to be sure. After missing two seasons and leaving the Kings, Clune completed his under-realized career appearing in 106 career NHL games and registering a modest 16 points combined for the Predators and Maple Leafs.
5 BOB PROBERT
One of hockey's all-time great enforcers, tough-guy Probert had a fairly successful career throwing punches and defending his teammates who possessed superior athletic ability. He was part of the "Bruise Brothers" with equally goonish teammate Joey Kocur. Still, Bob's tenure with the mighty Red Wings was prematurely--and shamefully--halted when he was busted at the Detroit-Windsor border in March 1989 with a half-ounce (14 grams) of cocaine hidden in his underpants. Probert may have gotten away with it if he didn't have empty beer cans and booze bottles scattered in his car, along with two amphetamine pills. It seems entirely plausible that Probert's cocaine abuse contributed to his premature death of a heart attack at age 45 in 2010 while fishing with his family out on the water.
4 MAREK SVATOS
Svatos, the former Colorado Avalanche right-winger, departed this mortal plane on November 5, 2016 after overdosing from a lethal drug combination in Lone Tree, Colorado. Per the Denver Post, which obtained the Douglas County Coroner's report, found that the Czech who scored exactly 100 goals in his 7-year NHL career, had codeine, morphine and Xanax in his system at the time of his death. Like many players on this list before him, Svatos battled depression and even experienced suicidal ideation, which suggests perhaps his death was not accidental, but intended. Not that it matters, the fact is Svatos is gone, and hopefully his fate can be a warning to other young NHL players with depression--to seek help instead of retreating into suicidal solitude, that coupled with drug abuse, could result in death.
3 DAVE GOVE
This past Spring, former NHL player and minor-league coach Gove met his doom by a heroin overdose, per KDKA. Gove barely qualifies for inclusion on this list by virtue of his playing in a whopping two NHL games, for the Carolina Hurricanes in 2005 and 2007. He was the taxi squad of the 2006 Stanley Cup Champion Hurricanes team and was allowed to pose in the team picture with the Cup, though his name will not be immortalized on Lord Stanley because he did not appear in a game that season with the Canes. On April 5, 2017, Gove was discovered dead in a rehab facility in Pittsburgh's Uptown neighborhood at the still way-too young age of 38. Allegedly "stamp bags"--waxed packages containing heroin--were found near Gove's body.
1 JOHN “RAMBO” KORDIC
Dying in a brawl with police in your hotel room with cocaine later discovered in your system during the autopsy is pretty much guaranteeing top ranking on this particular list of those players who chose hollow pleasure over hockey glory. And that’s how it all ended for Kordic, a member of the 1986 Montreal Canadiens' Stanley Cup winning team. As delineated in 1992 by SI in a piece bluntly entitled "Death of a Goon," the sad details of Kordic's last moments on Earth included his body also being pumped full of anabolic steroids that surely contributed to his demise.
It's almost as if Kordic represents the culmination of everything and everyone on this list--booze, cocaine and legal--but lethal--drugs.
Hopefully these tales serve a purpose in encouraging others to seek help if in fact they suffer from similar addictions.
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