Hockey is a violent sport.

And in some respects, it’s inaccessible for many. Unlike baseball and certain positions in football, the physicality of hockey limits it to a rather small population with large athletic ability.

Not to mention (unlike soccer and basketball) that VERY few public schools in the US have a hockey team and so those who do play not only need some ability, but their parents need some economic backing as the starting price of this sport (once you consider all the gear and joining a league) is higher than just about any other sport.

Yet even with those factors, you have to have some sort of physically competitive streak.  Hockey isn’t golf. You can be healthy and wealthy, but if you aren’t willing to hit and be hit, you’re not cut out to be a hockey player, yet along a hockey fan.

It is, in many respects one of the more intrinsically marginalizing and exclusive sports.

The Demons of a Few

Since May of this year, the international hockey world, though, has taken some very violent hits.

Three “enforcers” (guys who are paid to send a message to the other teams through nasty hits and checks), have recently died from self-inflicted wounds.

Wade Belak, 35, twelve year NHL player, husband, father to two young girls and soon to be color commentator hung himself at his luxury apartment this past Wednesday.

Rick Rypien, 27, lost his battle to depression when he took his own life in mid August.  Rick was set to play for the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets.

Derek Boogaard, 28, died in May.  His death was ruled as an accidental overdose to alcohol and oxycodone.

Belak, Boogaard and Rypien

Some enforcers suffer from what many describe as “demons.”  A plague of the mind that eats away at sanity.

Doctors suggest that these “demons” are caused from the violence of hockey and the abnormal violence suffered by the enforcers, who’s heads are knocked around too often for their own good, often causing undiagnosed concussions, and eventually causing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE for short).

Dr. Robert Cantu, an esteemed neurosurgeon, stated,

“We’ll never know with any certainty when someone commits suicide whether CTE played a role.  We do know CTE attacks the portion of the brain that controls functions of memory, emotion, addictive behavior and impulse control, the latter associated with suicide. And so we’re clear, in some cases the people involved may well have had emotional issues before its onset. But every time I read or hear about these tragedies, my first question is, ‘Did CTE play a role?’

It’s almost ironic that such a privileged group of humanity would be plagued by demons.  Men of physical stature.  Men of wealth.  The men of men.  Brought to their death, not by anybody else’s hand but by their own. Men, who few could dominate physically, overcome by weakness and damage of their mind.

The Demon of the Many

Perhaps the greatest hit sustained to the international hockey world was felt this past Wednesday, September 7th in Russia when a plane carrying an entire European professional hockey team clipped a beacon antenna on takeoff and crashed 500 yards from the runway, killing all of the 45 passengers, save two.

I hate flying.  I hate not being in control.  I hate the thought of falling some 30 plus thousand feet … the questions of “how long would I be conscious?”  I don’t mind death, but anxiety … that’s a killer.

At least these guys had it short.

And it’s amazing, based on the photos, that the two survivors even had a chance.

This wasn’t a flight full of random people whose communities where spread far and wide.  This was a hockey team.  A group of people entrenched in the hockey community.  This wasn’t the loss of a friend … this was the loss of many friends.  This wasn’t the the loss of a person from a specific community … it was the loss of a whole segment of a community.

And tragedies like this can scar an entire community.

It’s the way they died.  It’s the fact nobody was able to say their good-byes.

It’s the sudden, slap in the face, “not only is such and such friend dead, but so and so, and so and so … etc., etc., etc., etc. are gone as well.

It’s more like a sudden 36 quick slaps in the face.  A demon that can destroy the mind, the soul and the body.

The Demon of the One

And then there was one.  One Alexander Galimov who lives, but in a grave condition with 80% of his body burned.

Imagine being that one guy left alive.  Would you want to be THE ONLY ONE?  What would you say to the families of your lost teammates?  How would you answer their questions?  How would you answer your own questions?

If you were Alexander, would you be fighting for your life right now or would you just rather join in the travesty with your teammates?

Alexander Galimov

In any large scale tragedy, you see this.

In 9/11 we saw it.  People asking, “Why me?  I should have ….”

In war we see it.

In earthquakes, tornados, etc., the question / feeling of “I’m alive.  Everyone else is dead.  Who’s the lucky one?” is a demon of a whole different class.

It’s a demon that begs for legitimization.  Of “earning this” … of “proving to myself.”

It’s that whole “Saving Private Ryan” weight.  The weight that Captain Miller places around Ryan’s neck.  The weight of “earn this.” The weight of being the last survivor.  Being the last one standing isn’t all it’s made out to be.  Being the last one comes with the plaguing need for affirmation … the “tell me I’m a good man.”

And really, in one way or another, we can all ask such question.  In one way or another, we live off another’s sacrifice.

And I think the only right response … the response that can cast out the demons … is seeing life as a gift and responding, not in an “I’m going to pay it back” attitude, but in gratitude … gratitude for life.

I’m praying for Alexander.  I’m praying that if he survives, that he’d also find a way to live.

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