On March 22nd another story was posted about an enforcer who committed suicide. It didn't get as much exposure as those about Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien or Wade Belak because it involved a junior player who didn't make the big leagues. I wonder how many more potential stories like this are out there - teenagers who chased their dream of playing in the NHL through the role of a fighter.
Lyndon Kenny committed suicide in November of 2011 and his brother posted a moving reflection on his life and brief hockey career. The full article can be found here
. Lyndon was drafted by the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League because of his size, and ability to scare opponents with his hitting and fists. Unfortunately this led to several concussions at an early age and he struggled with the same symptoms as reported by other enforcers; depression, lack of motivation and memory loss.
When the hockey world lost Boogaard, Rypien and Belak last year many noted that while sad, all of these enforcers knew what they were doing when they chose their career. I'm sure that some will say the same thing about Lyndon, that he knew the risks when he pursued his dream of playing hockey. But I have trouble believing that players at age 16 are getting full disclosure on the risks of hockey in general or being the team enforcer in particular. At a young age these players need guidance from experienced coaches and former players to tell them what lies ahead. I would like to know how many junior hockey coaches or team executives take the time to explain the following facts to the teenagers in their organization:
Across Canada there are approx. 2,400 players in junior hockey that feed the professional leagues. Less than 5% will be drafted by a NHL team.
Of those that are drafted, less than 20% will ever play in the NHL If you are drafted after the 3rd round, your chances are further cut in half.
The role of an enforcer can have a significant emotional and physical impact. If a coach tells a player that his only chance to make it is by using their size and dropping the gloves, then they have a responsibility to sit down with him and his family to fully describe what that means. Perhaps they should encourage that player talk to a former NHL enforcer, like Jim Thomson, to learn what they can expect.
Blows to the head can cause brain trauma and, according to recent NHL stats, you are 3 or 4 times more likely to get a concussion from fighting versus a hockey hit. Why not have the junior player talk to a specialist in brain trauma so they can be forewarned about potential health risks in their later years.
Even a 4th line hockey enforcer can expect to make $500,000 or more if they manage to earn a spot on a NHL roster, more if they are a power forward with some skill. Teenagers can get blinded by the expectations of that kind of money and the fame that comes with it. They need reasonable advice from those charged with protecting their interests while playing at the junior level. Junior hockey leagues in Canada offer a scholarship program that typically pays for 1 year of college or university for every year played in the league. Perhaps more players should be encouraged to finish their junior hockey careers and take advantage of that offer, versus being encouraged to take boxing lessons in the off-season.
Junior hockey is expected to implement stiffer penalties for fighting next season but some coaches think fighting needs to stay in order to prepare players for the NHL. If you look at the big 3 junior leagues; OHL, WHL and QMJHL, you have over 90 players who have had 10 or more fights in the 2011-2012 season (the top fighter in the OHL had over 30). Using the stats above, perhaps 4 or 5 of those fighting focused players might be drafted and 1 might end up with a career in the NHL. So these 3 leagues have almost 100 of the top fighters involved in well over 1,000 fights so that 1 player can be comfortable dropping the gloves in the majors. The coaches should be concerned with the 99% of players that will never make it to the NHL and think about their safety on the ice right now and their future after the game.
Let's not continue to read about players like Lyndon Kenny while there is much that can be done to prevent it.