The hockey community was once again reminded of the pressures faced by some players, this time by the now-retired centerman, Patrick O’Sullivan. Despite breaking scoring records throughout his junior career, it was never enough for his father, who abused him on multiple levels as a child and teen. As detailed in his new book Breaking Away, his father would yell from the stands, make him walk home from the rink, and then wake him in the middle of the night for either a beating or rigorous training. It’s understandable that O’Sullivan eventually walked away from the game.
O’Sullivan is by no means the only player in recent years to carry personal demons onto the ice. Dany Heatley, who killed friend and teammate Dan Snyder in a 2003 car crash, is now without an NHL contract and playing in Germany. Troubled agitator Sean Avery, who despite his on- and off-ice behavior that would exhaust him of second chances, has recently opened up that on some nights he did not have the necessary “extra gear” to keep up with being hated around the league.
For some, Like Steve Montador, Wade Belak, and Rick Rypien, those demons became too much, and the stigma around the NHL of mental illness, emotional baggage, and post-concussion syndrome was too ingrained in hockey culture. Dan Carcillo, recently retired himself, has launched an organization called Chapter 5 to help players transition from life in sports to retirement.
We all have our own demons to contend with, some more than others, but most of us do not have the world’s spotlight over our heads with the expectation to perform at a level deemed suitable in earning millions of dollars. These 15 NHLers cannot say the same, working to slay their demons and win a Stanley Cup at the same time, while the world watches.
15. Mike Ribeiro
Nothing like allegedly sexually assaulting your children’s nanny to put your career in jeopardy…or to be awarded a new two-year, $7 million contract. All-in-all a good summer for Mike Ribeiro. Still, all that eventfulness seems to weighing on him, as Ribeiro is on pace for his worst season in well over a decade. Off-ice trouble has followed Ribeiro throughout his career, from violence at home during junior hockey, to alcohol and partying in the NHL, and ultimately to his divorce in 2010. (They remarried three years later, but that whole [alleged] nanny situation couldn’t have helped matters.)
14. Richard Clune
Rich Clune, who has spent his ten-year NHL career between the minors and the NHL, opened up in the off-season with an article in the Players’ Tribune about his alcohol and drug abuse. A day-drinker dating back to his junior hockey days, Clune has admitted to cocaine benders, using women, and driving drunk. Finally, Clune checked into rehab—with the intent to stay—and says he is sober today. But sobriety to Clune means not accepting painkillers, even for an elbow to the mouth that required 30 stitches.
13. Todd Bertuzzi
Let’s be clear: Todd Bertuzzi deserves nobody’s sympathy. But he also sent his own career off the rails on that terrible night in February 2004. After somewhat of a bounce-back season following his suspension, Bertuzzi’s career headed downhill, jumping from team to team and never reaching the 20-goal plateau again. He now finds himself on the outside of the NHL looking in. His latest professional stint was in a two-game tryout in the AHL with the Binghamton Senators, where he went minus-3 and was promptly let go. Bertuzzi’s wife Julie is the current breadwinner, having just launched her new book Hockey Moms: Realities from the Rink.
12. Jarret Stoll
It’s safe to say that after Jarrett Stoll’s embarrassing off-season—when he was allegedly found to have ecstasy tablets and two bags of cocaine in his shorts pockets at a Las Vegas strip club—he is thankful to be given a second chance so soon (even if his salary is just north of league minimum). But the Big Apple is not without its own temptations, though swimming pool season in New York is significantly shorter than Vegas.
11. Sergei Bobrovsky
The words “I have zero confidence right now” are not exactly what incoming head coach John Tortorella wanted to hear from his number-one goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky. But after backing Columbus to its worst start in franchise history (which, for a recent expansion club, is saying something), it’s conceivable that his confidence has taken a hit. Bobrovsky, with a $7 million salary and a Vezina trophy on his mantle, will have to get it together if he doesn’t want to be involved in the next Luongo-type debacle.
10. Mason Raymond
Nothing hurts more than being put on waivers—by the Calgary Flames—and then going unclaimed…by anyone. Raymond is yet to live up to the high expectations set upon him during his early days in Vancouver, and his tentative play brought on from the wrenching back injury in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals still follows him today. “There was enough pain to last a long, long time,” he said. Understandable why he might be a little hesitant to skate full-force into the corners.
9. Mike Richards
Unlike former LA King teammate, Jarret Stoll, Mike Richards hasn’t been so lucky in finding a new NHL home. The two-time Stanley Cup champion had his contract terminated by the Kings in June after attempting to cross the border in possession of Oxycodone. Now, despite being ready and waiting, no teams are interested in Richards. Even Kings GM Dean Lombardi was shaken up by the events, telling the LA Times, “The only thing…worse would be suspecting your wife of cheating on you for five years and then finding out in fact it was true.” Ouch.
8. James Reimer
Life can’t be easy for James Reimer, playing in the toughest city in the NHL and never once having the opportunity to play more than half an NHL season. Whether due to injury or lack of confidence from the coaching staff, Reimer has always shared the crease with the likes of Jonas Gustavsson, Ben Scrivens, and Jonathan Bernier. He was in net for the devastating collapse in the 2013 playoffs, when Boston erased a late three-goal lead in Game 7 and went on to win in OT. This season he resumes sharing the number-one spot with Bernier, and is off to a marginally better start than his partner between the pipes.
7. Dominic Moore
The Moore boys were not dealt the easy cards. Mark, drafted by Pittsburgh, was forced to retire before playing an NHL game. We all know about Steve, whose career ended as result of the Todd Bertuzzi sucker-punch. Dominic, meanwhile, has quietly established himself as an NHL journeyman, contentedly bouncing from city to city. That was until he disappeared during the playoffs of 2012, later announcing his wife Katie was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Katie died in January of 2013. Moore did not play that season, which coincided with the NHL lockout. He went on to sign with the Rangers, where he has called home for three straight seasons.
6. Marc-André Fleury
From early in his hockey career, Marc-André Fleury has certainly had his ups and downs. Even though the “ups” include a Stanley Cup, two All-Star nods, and being part of a gold medal Olympic team, it’s the “downs” that stay in the minds of critics: the World Junior gaff, awful playoff runs, never being voted higher than eighth in the Vezina nomination, and that je-ne-sais-quoi of unpredictability. Fleury has even hired a sports psychologist to help him deal with the pressures of standing alone in the crease.
5. Raffi Torres
Considering the fact 34-year-old Raffi Torres hasn’t played a full NHL season since 2007, whether due to injury or suspension, it’s safe to say he isn’t trying to be a dangerous ass on purpose. Like Matt Cooke and others before him, Torres is finding difficulty making the big hit that will keep him on the roster, while adapting to the new NHL that does not condone contact to the head. Now considered a veteran, it will be interesting to see whether Torres can find his way back.
4. Joe Thornton
No one can accuse Joe Thornton of having an unsuccessful career, with Hart and Art Ross trophies, and sitting second in all-time points among active players. But despite his regular season achievements, “Jumbo” has never led his team to a Stanley Cup—or even to the finals—an elephant that sits in the back his mind and the minds of anyone who follows hockey. When he was stripped of his “C” by the coaching staff, Thornton commented that he wasn’t truly bothered by the act, but he went on to play one of his worst NHL seasons.
3. Zack Kassian
Despite losing his dad as an eight-year-old, Zack Kassian overcame the obstacles to build a successful junior career, going on to be drafted by Buffalo in the first round. That success was punctuated by episodes of trouble, including a bar fight in 2010 and multiple suspensions for intent to injure. Now in the NHL, Kassian is yet to grow into the unstoppable power forward that many are hoping. In early October, Kassian was involved in a car accident, in which he broke his nose and foot, and was then placed in the Substance Abuse program.
2. Jack Johnson
It’s not uncommon to hear about professional athletes finding themselves in financial distress after retirement, but going bankrupt in the middle of their career? That’s all kinds of unfortunate. The details are still surfacing, but Johnson has gone more than $10 million into debt and says his parents—to whom he had given full power of his finances in place of his agent—are to blame. Whether out of motivation or financial self-preservation, Johnson’s money woes aren’t weighing him down on the ice. Last season, he put up his best numbers since 2011.
1. Jordin Tootoo
Jordin Tootoo’s rough upbringing has been well documented by sports journalists and hockey fans alike. The fiery agitator from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, who became the first player of Inuit descent to play in the NHL, had it tough even before making it to the Show. Tootoo grew up with parents who battled alcoholism, and he lost his brother Terence to suicide when he was 19. As an NHLer, Tootoo partied hard, went on one-night-stands, and binge-drank, which ultimately led to his entering the Substance Abuse program in 2010, and has been sober ever since.
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