In my career covering the NHL, there are five incidents that pop into my head when people ask, “What the scariest thing you’ve covered?”
Kurtis Foster leaving the San Jose ice and Scott Mellanby leaving the Montreal ice on stretchers after crashing into the end wall are two. Paul Laus knocking out Ken Belanger with one punch is three, and Keith Ballard, in what turned out to be his final game, convulsing on the ice after being crushed into the glass by Matt Martin is four.
The fifth was in 1999 when Cam Stewart, playing with Florida, was elbowed in the jaw by Kevin Dineen in Ottawa. Stewart, who would later play for the Wild, was out cold before he fell backward. The fact Dineen was suspended one game and Chris Wells four for going after Dineen is still one of the biggest farces I’ve dealt with.
Wednesday in Toronto, I reunited with “Stew,” the former University of Michigan and Houston Aeros star who played 202 NHL games. He’s now working for agent Kurt Overhardt as director of player development.
Stewart’s career was shortened because of concussions. He had nine documented, his final one coming in the 2001 Wild preseason when Edmonton’s Scott Ferguson got him with what then was a “good hockey hit” but today probably would have been a head shot despite Stewart saying he was caught with his head down.
Stewart never played again. He got to a point where he had recovered from concussion symptoms and landed a job as vice president of BiteTech, which is UnderArmour’s mouthguard. But four years ago, Stewart was in a car accident, and boom, his concussion symptoms returned. He had to leave his executive job, and four years later, he still hasn’t fully mended.
Losing his balance, headaches, dizziness, light sensitivity, having trouble reading, depression. Stewart, now 45, has experienced it all.
The concussion spotter, criticized by some for forcing Edmonton’s Connor McDavid to leave the game vs. Minnesota last Sunday because he hit his chin on the ice, maybe would have helped Stewart.
“When I was in Boston my first year, I got a concussion. I couldn’t skate, but I shot the water bottle over my head and scored in the third period of that game,” Stewart said. “The next week, [Laus] hit me in Boston in the first period and I couldn’t get to the bench. I then fought Lauser in the third period, and he cut me for 10.
“So that’s like two or three concussions right there. It’s all documented on paper. I’m reading it, and I’m like, ‘What the heck?’ It was just different. The head’s a long way from the heart back then.”
Even though there are flaws with consistency in the NHL’s new concussion protocol, Stewart believes “you need somebody away from the team that’s trained properly to make the call if a player has to leave the game. You can’t leave it up to a trainer or the player. Erring on the side of overcautious is probably the way to go.
“I wish it was like that when I was playing. I think it would have changed the way I played; it would have changed a lot about the game. Concussions, it’s one of those mysteries. The hardest part of concussions, there’s no way to tell what you got. It’s more how people feel, and a lot of people question it. That’s probably the most frustrating.”
Especially now that the car accident has retriggered postconcussion syndrome, Stewart is worried about his future, saying, “You can’t not be with the evidence of [chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE] out there.
“People all talk about the fighters, but we hit our heads way more as skaters. ... You just hope you’ll be OK for your family.”
• Even though the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) says it has the $10 million needed to cover travel costs, insurance and other items for NHL players to play in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, the hope of the league participating seems to be fading.
After Thursday’s Board of Governors meeting, Commissioner Gary Bettman said, “It’s fair to say that there is some strong negative sentiment in the room.”
The league says a decision needs to be made by January. Bettman says the IIHF hasn’t told the NHL officially it can cover the costs, and he’s not sure that would sway the owners anyway. Among the owner concerns: stopping the momentum of the season and injuries to players.
The league tried to broker a deal with the NHLPA to extend the collective bargaining agreement by three years in exchange for the Olympics and a number of other revenue-building events, but that offer was rejected because of disenchantment with the amount of escrow withheld from player paychecks.
• Bettman also said Thursday that next season’s salary cap “could range from where it is now [$73 million] to a couple or so million up, but we’re going to all have to focus on what makes most sense going forward.”
• Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine, leading NHL rookies with 17 goals entering Saturday, has taken the NHL by storm.
“The release of his shot and the quickness that he gets it away is very Ovi-like,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said, referring to his former Washington star, Alex Ovechkin. “He’s not as big and physical as Ovi yet.”
Of course, wait ’til the 18-year-old Laine fills out.
Sunday: 5 p.m. vs. St. Louis
Tuesday: 7 p.m. vs. Florida
Thursday: 7 p.m. at Nashville
Saturday: 1 p.m. vs. Arizona
Sun.: FSN +, Tue., Thu., Sat.: FSN
Player to watch:
Jaromir Jagr, Panthers
The 44-year-old future Hall of Famer (entering Saturday) has 1,882 points, five shy of tying Mark Messier for second all-time. His 1,657 games rank fourth, his 755 goals rank third and his 1,127 assists rank sixth.
“If he was in Toronto, there would be no Carey Price.”
Coach Bruce Boudreau on how if the Wild’s Devan Dubnyk played for the Maple Leafs, the media would be pumping Dubnyk in Vezina Trophy talk over Montreal’s star
Michael Russo can be heard on 100.3-FM and seen on FSN Blog: startribune.com/russo Twitter: @russostrib E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org