Sorry if my first blog back after doing a week of radio on Sportsnet Radio The FAN 590 in Toronto seems a little macabre, but it’s something I’ve wanted to get out there for a while now.
Never have we had so horrible a summer filled with the tragic deaths of so many players in so many different ways. There has never been an off-season like this in the sport, and let’s hope we never have to endure another one like it.
And while the hockey world tried to come to grips with the passing of two players specifically, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, very little was written about other players who shared their troubles and ended their lives in a familiar fashion.
It’s a horrible thing to think about even for a second, but it is a reality in our world. Everyone knows or knew someone who took their own life. And hockey, which is but a microcosm for the rest of society, is no different. The same issues that exist in “the real world” exist in hockey and we should never forget that. No matter how much fans look up to athletes as somehow being super human, they are not. They share the same day-to-day struggles that we all do and are not exempt from the darkness.
As much as we look back on the lives of Rypien and Belak, let’s not forget the others who chose to end their lives – these were not isolated events in hockey. It’s happened before in the sport, and as you look at the list you’ll notice that most of the victims were not fighters. Depression and mental illness doesn’t discriminate between toughness and skill.
Tom Cavanagh: The Harvard educated, former San Jose Sharks prospect took his life in a Providence, R.I., parking lot last January. Cavanagh had suffered from mental illness and schizophrenia. He had been seeking treatment to deal with his illness and was institutionalized several times.
Rick Blight: One of the Vancouver Canucks leading scorers during the first three seasons of the franchise, Blight disappeared April 3, 2005 and was found two weeks later near Lake Manitoba by his pickup truck. He had committed suicide at the age of 49.
Dusan Pasek: The Slovak suited up in 48 games for the Minnesota North Stars in ’88-’89 in what is best described as a non-descript NHL career. After managing the Slovak national team to a horrible result at the 1998 Olympics Pasek took his life one month after the tournament, shooting himself in the head in his office. He left behind suicide notes for his wife, three daughters and the Slovak Ice Hockey Federation.
Evgeny Belosheiken: “Evgeny the Great” was touted as the next Tretiak by Soviet hockey officials, but Belosheiken never lived up to the billing. Drafted by the Oilers in 1991, Belosheiken suffered from alcoholism and was involved in an alcohol drugging by two females that him and teammate Alexei Gusarov had picked up at a nightclub. Both had their drinks spiked and were robbed. Nobody knew what was slipped into their drinks, but the incident left Belosheiken with severe health problems. He took his own life on Nov. 18, 1999.
Yevgeny Babich: A star forward in Soviet hockey in the ’50s, Babich helped the USSR win Olympic gold at the ’56 games in Cortina d’Ampezzo. Babich was also quite accomplished at soccer and bandy. After he retired as a player he coached hockey for years in the Soviet Union and despite being quite successful, Babich suffered from depression and spoke openly about killing himself. He hanged himself in a bathroom June 11, 1972, at his home in Moscow.
Jake Gilmour: One of the toughest players in the Ontario Hockey League from 2001-2004, Gilmour injured his back while rock climbing one off-season. He took his life at his parents’ home in Napanee, Ont., Nov. 12, 2005. He was 21.
Mark Green: A Winnipeg Jets draft pick in 1986, Green bounced around the minors his entire career. After retiring Green worked as a car sales manager and was accused of stealing money from both the dealership and a customer. He hanged himself in 2004.
Trevor Ettinger: A former Oilers draft pick, Ettinger was playing with the Columbus Blue Jackets AHL affiliate in Syracuse when he shot himself at his mother’s home in Nova Scotia in the summer of 2003.
Roman Lyashenko: Played for both the Dallas Stars and New York Rangers from 1999-2003. Lyashenko killed himself while on vacation in Turkey with his mother and sister in ’03. He slashed his wrists and then hanged himself. He wrote a suicide note to his mother apologizing for taking his life.
Marc Potvin: Cousin of Hall of Famer Denis Potvin, Marc bounced around the NHL filling the tough guy role for Detroit, Los Angeles, Hartford and Boston before making the transition to coaching in the United Hockey League. Before a game in Kalamazoo, Mich., in 2006, Potvin hanged himself in the bathroom of his hotel.
Sarah Devens: An outstanding athlete at Dartmouth, Devens was equally adept at ice hockey as she was at field hockey and lacrosse. In 1995 she failed to make the U.S. national women’s hockey team and later that year later came up short in her bid to join the U.S. field hockey squad, which left her in a depressed state. That July she shot herself in the chest with a rifle. Devens was 21 years old.
On this day in hockey history:
1926: Jack Stoddard, born in Stoney Creek, Ont. Stoddard played with the New York Rangers from ’51-’53 and was the NHL’s first player to wear No. 13 regularly. The 6-foot-3 forward was the tallest player in the league when he joined and had a sweet nickname too: Octopus.
1927: Detroit claimed Larry Aurie in the CPL inter-league draft. This is a fascinating story. Aurie was an outstanding player for former Wings owner James Norris – in fact he was Norris’ favourite player.
While he wasn’t the biggest guy on the ice by any stretch (5-foot-8, 150 pounds) he was often the best and certainly one of the toughest. His nickname was Little Dempsey after the heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey. He was the ultimate example of the complete player. Equally adept with his fists as he was his wrists, Aurie was used as a measuring stick within the organization for Gordie Howe. “Is he as good as Aurie?” was the question asked often of the future Hall of Famer.
He was the first Red Wing selected to an NHL All Star team. The Wings retired his No. 6 when his playing days were over but when the Ilitch family bought the franchise something curious happened: His jersey was unretired.
In 2005, Ilitch had No. 6 removed from the list of retired Red Wings numbers yet it has not been issued to a player since. It is out of circulation. Curious. And for some reason it’s never been made clear why Aurie’s jersey doesn’t hang in the rafters of Joe Louis Arena even though it was the first number officially retired by the team.
The Aurie case raises the question about new ownership and their ability to either re-write or completely wipe out a franchise’s true history. Is a franchise obligated to honour those who were honoured by a different ownership group? I would argue yes. Specifically in the case of Larry Aurie.
1931: The NHL Board of Governors officially increased the number of games in a season to 48, up from 44.
1975: The Philadelphia Flyers sign Terry Murray. The California Seals didn’t offer Murray a contract and Philly scooped him up. He played 18 games with the Flyers. Murray finished his career playing for the Capitals while his brother Bryan was the head coach. Murray started his career in 1972 but didn’t score his first NHL goal until 1981.
1985: The New York Rangers sign Mike Ridley out of the University of Manitoba. A great story, Ridley missed an entire season of hockey after breaking his leg at the age of 15 but fought back and had a successful12-year NHL career.