As hockey fans, we’ve been privileged to witness many heroic and miraculous moments, but, unfortunately, it goes the other way sometimes as there have been instances of tragedy, particularly in recent years.
Let’s make it clear right off the hop, the word “tragedy” does not refer to a long playoff run followed by heartbreak in game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. A moment like that is certainly sad, but it’s all part of the game. You suck it up, shake hands, and start thinking about next season. Sure, we love to celebrate triumphant comebacks of players that defeat an illness and return to play or simply to good health. Sadly, not everyone is that lucky, as some players that are battling illness have their careers or lives cut short. On top of that, there have been many recent examples of unfortunate accidents that have led to deaths.
Hockey is also the only sport that allows bare knuckle brawling and while we appreciate everything that enforcers do, some of them are certainly battling demons and we’ve tragically lost a few of them recently.
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15 Death of Steve Chiasson
After being eliminated by the Boston Bruins in 1999, the Carolina Hurricanes had a team party at the home of Gary Roberts. According to his teammates, Chiasson refused to call a taxi and was adamant on driving home. He crashed his pickup truck and was killed on impact. It was also later revealed that his blood alcohol level was 0.27.
This one stings even more because it was sheer negligence on his part and could have easily been prevented. He was 32 years old and survived by his wife and three young kids.
14 Death of Doug Wickenheiser
Wickenheiser was selected first overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 1980. He was dubbed as the next superstar as he ripped up the Western Hockey League with the Regina Pats. He never really got off on the right foot with the Habs, as fans were displeased that Denis Savard, a French Canadian, wasn’t selected instead. They ultimately ended up giving up on him and dealing him to St. Louis.
Wickenheiser will go down as one of the biggest draft busts in NHL history, but he still had a fairly long career and, more importantly, was still a human being with a wife and three kids. He had a rare form of cancer (epithelioid sarcoma) which was removed from his wrist. Three years later, the cancer came back, spread to his lungs and it was terminal. He passed away in January of 1999.
13 Josh Harding's Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis
Sometimes seeing light at the end of the tunnel makes it easier to battle adversity. There's no such light for Harding, as if he didn't have bad luck, he'd have no luck at all. The former Minnesota Wild goaltender had such a promising career ahead of him until it got derailed with injuries and illness.
In 2010, Harding completely tore his ACL and MCL in his right knee in a preseason games and ended up missing the entire season. Harding rehabbed hard and was finally hitting his stride when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2012. He didn't want any sympathy and was set on continuing his NHL career, and for that he was awarded the Bill Masterton trophy for his perseverance. Miraculously, through 29 games in the 2013-2014 season, Harding led all goaltenders with a .933 save percentage but was forced to sit the rest of the season out due to complications with the disease. Despite the grim outlook, Harding continues to battle and hopes to play again, and we hope that he's able to find a way to get back to doing what he loves, so this sad story can become an inspirational one.
12 Death of Howie Morenz
They say there's no such thing as dying from a broken heart, but Morenz's case is about as close as it comes. On January 28th, 1937 in a game at the Montreal Forum against the Blackhawks, Morenz lost his balance and crashed into the boards. The Hawks defenseman, Earl Seibert was chasing him down and was not able to stop in time, resulting in him crashing onto Morenz with all his weight and leaving him with four fractures in his leg.
Morenz was bedridden in the hospital and began to get depressed as the team was struggling without him. His anxiety also got the best of him at the realization that he may never play hockey again. He eventually started complaining of chest pains, before having a heart attack. He tried to stand up, but collapsed right away and died within minutes. His funeral was held at the Montreal Forum.
11 The Sverdlovsk Air Disaster
The Sverdlovsk Air Disaster occurred on January 5th, 1950. A plane carrying the Soviet Air Force hockey team crashed near Yekaterinburg (known as Sverdlovsk at the time). Nowadays this tragedy is overshadowed by the more recent plane crash carrying the entire Lokomotiv team in 2011, due to the fact that there were more people on the plane and, in turn, more casualties.
The Sverdlovsk crash occurred due to abysmal weather conditions. The flight diverted back to Sverdlovsk and attempted to land a few times but ultimately crashed, killing all 19 passengers, including the VVS Moscow hockey team.
10 Death of Pelle Lindbergh
Pelle Lindbergh would have easily gone down as the best Flyers goaltender of all time. At the time of his accident, he was only 26 years old and the best was yet to come in his young career. Lindbergh's car accident was another incident directly caused by drinking and driving. He lost control of his Porsche and drove directly into the wall of an elementary school. He was leaving a team party and had a blood alcohol level of .24 at the time of the crash. Not only did Lindbergh kill himself, but he also severely injured his two passengers.
Lindbergh was an incredible talent and had already accumulated numerous accolades at an early age, notably on the international stage. He could have been one of the great, but sadly, his story ended tragically.
9 Steve Moore/Todd Bertuzzi Incident
Arguably no other on-ice incident has left a bigger black mark on hockey than the Steve Moore/Todd Bertuzzi fiasco. During a game between the Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks, Steve Moore delivered a huge hit on the Canucks captain Markus Naslund. Naslund was reaching forward for the puck and Moore's shoulder made direct contact with his head, leaving him with a concussion and ultimately missing three games as a result. Marc Crawford and many of the Canucks players voiced their displeasure, before Brad May even issued a bounty...and this is where it gets messy.
The next time these two teams met, Gary Bettman was in attendance and nothing happened. But that would be like starting a schoolyard brawl with the principal lurking. In the rematch five days later, it was clear the Canucks were going after Moore. Matt Cooke engaged him in a fight where Moore got the better of him (what else is new?). Midway through the third period, Bertuzzi began stalking Moore trying to get him to fight. Moore ignored him which led to Bertuzzi grabbing Moore's jersey from behind and punching him in the jaw. Bertuzzi and several other players ended up landing on top of Moore, causing three fractured neck vertebrae along with a concussion and other injuries. The injuries sustained ended his career.
The ugliness spilled into court for nearly a decade. A confidential settlement was finally reached in August.
8 Death of Brittanie Cecil
The death of Brittanie Cecil is the only fan fatality in the 85-year existence of the NHL. She was attending the Blue Jackets vs. Flames game in Columbus and was struck with the puck as a shot from Espen Knutsen was deflected by Flames defenseman Derek Morris.
Cecil did not die immediately after being struck by the puck. She spent nearly 48 hours in the hospital and appeared to be recovering as the pain and dizziness seemed to be subsiding. But the CT scan did not see the torn vertebral artery that ultimately led to swelling in the brain along with clotting. She ended up getting a high fever and died shortly after.
This was an absolute tragedy but the only positive that we can take out of this is the fact that since Cecil's death, protective netting has been set up over the glass (behind the net) to prevent fans from being struck. Looking back, it seems ridiculous that someone had to die before safety netting was installed.
7 Death of Dan Snyder
Another preventable death and probably a case of too much money too soon. On September 29th, 2003, Dan Snyder and Dany Heatley were taking a cruise in Heatley's Ferrari 360 Modena. Heatley decided to "gun it" as he was reportedly going between 55-85 miles per hour in a 35 zone. He lost control and slid into a brick pillar and iron fence. The car ended up completely split in half. Heatley was banged up, but ultimately recovered from his injuries. Snyder was not so fortunate, as he went into a coma and never woke up, dying six days after the crash.
There was no ill intent on Heatley's part other than reckless driving, but he still got off quite easy considering that someone died because of his negligence. He was fortunate that Snyder's parents were forgiving and did not pursue greater charges and were adamant on Heatley not going to jail. He was sentenced with three years probation and was forced to give 150 speeches on the dangers of speeding.
6 Death of Alexei Cherepanov
Cherepanov was playing for the KHL's Avangard Omsk at the time. After finishing up a shift with line mates Pavel Rosa and Jaromir Jagr, Cherepanov was sitting on the bench and proceeded to turn white and ultimately pass out. His teammates began shouting for assistance. The medical staff attempted to revive him but were unsuccessful. He was transferred to a local hospital and was pronounced dead due to a heart attack, according to a report on ESPN.com.
To this day, this is the most mysterious death of all time in regards to a hockey player dying. How can a 19 year old in supposed great health simply die of a heart attack after finishing a routine shift? If there was an issue, why wasn't the staff aware of it?
An investigation was launched after Cherepanov's death but it complicated the situation even further. Each report offered a different explanation for his death. Many people have been critical of the Omsk medical staff, but Cherepanov did go through a battery of tests before the 2007 NHL draft and there was no indication of health problems. Bottom line, a 19 year old was gone way too soon.
5 Vladimir Konstantinov/Viacheslav Fetisov Limo Accident
Following the Detroit Red Wings Stanley Cup win in 1997, Konstantinov, Fetisov, and one of the Wings trainers, Sergei Mnatsakanov hired a limousine to drive them home. The driver lost control of the car and crashed into a tree. His license was actually suspended at the time for drunk driving. Mnatsakanov and Konstantinov spent considerable time in a coma while Fetisov got out with only minor injuries.
This example is tragic and maddening for a few reasons. First, and most importantly, these three men did the smart thing by hiring a ride home because they knew they'd be drinking, yet they still ended up in an accident and two of them had life altering injuries. Secondly, most of the media likes to give the illusion that Konstantinov's recovery is a positive story, but it is not. He can barely walk, even with the help of a walker. He's sustained severe brain trauma, to the point where he's been put in home and requires 24 hour care. A man tried to make the right choice and was left with severe injuries, and while his perseverance should be admired, it's a tragic and heartbreaking story.
4 Death of Bill Masterton
Bill Masterton is the only NHL player to be killed as a direct result of an on-ice play. It's upsetting, but also incredible that he was the only death during a period where they weren't wearing helmets. In a game against the Oakland Seals, Masterton was carrying the puck at full speed, before he was met with a hit from Ron Harris. The contact knocked him backwards and the impact made him lose consciousness before he even hit the ice. He was rushed to hospital and unfortunately never regained consciousness.
It's mind boggling to think that for a good portion of the NHL's history players were not wearing helmets. Imagine a Scott Stevens type hit being delivered on an unsuspecting player skating at full tilt. Now picture it with the recipient of the hit not wearing a helmet. The NHL has an award named after him for the player that demonstrates qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. A fitting tribute.
3 Death of Luc Bourdon
Luc Bourdon was the 10th overall draft pick by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2005 entry draft. Any fan of Canadian Junior hockey has an image ingrained in their mind of him pointing to the Team Canada crest after celebrating a goal at the World Juniors. Bourdon was only scratching the surface of a promising career with the Canucks before the unthinkable happened.
Bourdon was involved in a horrific motorcycle collision in 2008 when he hit a tractor-trailer after losing control of his Suzuki GSX-R1000. He was killed on impact and his bike was shattered into pieces. The RCMP said that Bourdon's inexperience with motorcycles likely had a lot to do with the crash. Another preventable death and an utter shame.
2 2011 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl Plane Crash
The Lokomotiv Yaroslavl Air Disaster occurred on September 7th, 2011. It had 44 fatalities including former NHL'ers, Josef Vasicek, Pavol Demitra, Karlis Skrastins, Ruslan Salei and Karel Rachunek.
When the weird dynamics of the crash are described, it almost seems impossible how such an error could occur. The plane had not even reached flying altitude as it was only 20 feet off the ground when it struck a tower mast. It then caught on fire and only one person survived the crash.
An investigation was immediately launched and provided us with the reasons for the crash. The pilots falsified their knowledge of the craft and didn't really know what they were doing. They said the only way this could've happened was if one pilot accelerated while the other activated the brakes. Truly heartbreaking.
1 Three NHL Enforcers Die in 2011
Yours truly, like a lot of other people, is a proponent of fighting in hockey. If you take fighting out of the game, there's no consequence for players taking cheap shots. Stick work and dirty plays would most definitely increase. Enforcers help keep the star players safe, but they are subjecting themselves to major damage. At the end of the day, it is the only sport that allows bare knuckle brawling.
In 2011, the hockey world lost Rick Rypien, Derek Boogaard and Wade Belak. Belak and Rypien's deaths were both rules as suicides, while Boogaard died of a lethal combination of alcohol and painkillers, according to NYTimes.com. An alarming commonality between the three players is that they were all battling depression. An even more alarming commonality is the fact that they were all enforcers. I'm not an MD (and won't pretend to be one like Mark Recchi), and don't know if there's a correlation between cumulative punches to the face/head and severe brain trauma, but red flags certainly have to go up.
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