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Boogaard an alarming example of NHL’s easy path to drug addiction

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Derek Boogaard was able to get painkillers simply by texting team doctors. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

By Stu Hackel

The horror that was Derek Boogaard’s painkiller addiction came into shaper focus earlier this month when John Branch of The New York Times followed up his stunning three-part exposé from last fall  (Part One, Part Two, Part Three) with a story focusing on how easily the late Rangers enforcer was able to obtain prescription drugs. Branch’s latest piece was published the same day as Game 3 of the Kings-Devils Stanley Cup Final and, even though it was on The Times’ front page, it perhaps got less attention than it deserved in hockey circles.

Much of the reaction surrounding Branch’s original story about Boogaard was focused on fighting in the NHL and it raised the volume of those who oppose it. But the league has no plans to alter its position and the players continue to voice a nearly unanimous sentiment for keeping fighting in the game. However, painkiller addiction isn’t something that is defended by traditionalists, and its victims are likely a larger group than frequent fighters. Considering how contentious the fighting issue is, the painkiller problem may be more immediately fixable. Judging by Branch’s most recent piece, there’s a lot to fix. The most jarring aspect  is the manner in which Boogaard obtained the various pills that ultimately led to his death, and not just from illicit providers, but from team doctors as well.

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  • Published On Jun 18, 2012
  • Ken Dryden’s anti-concussions mission

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    Will there come a time when people look back and wonder why more wasn’t done to stop concussions? (Chaz Palla/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    It was another bad week for concussions in the NHL. Sidney Crosby, who many hoped would be back in the Penguins’ lineup by now, is still unable to practice. Unsure of his return, he sought help from a specialist in Atlanta and is seeing another in California. Center Danny Briere was concussed in Saturday’s game against the Devils. He’s the sixth Flyer to suffer that injury this season.  Teammate James van Riemsdyk is still sidelined; Chris Pronger is out for the rest of the season, maybe longer, and his wife Lauren went public with their struggles (video). The Jets’ leading goal scorer, Evander Kane, joined the ranks late last week. The Bruins’ Marc Savard (photo above), whose career is in doubt after repeated concussions, disclosed the problems he’s having with headaches and memory.

    When 28 players were concussed in December, we titled our post on the subject  “An Awful Month for NHL Concussions.” The way Hockey Hall of Famer Ken Dryden sees it, however, it would be a mistake to believe that this epidemic of head injuries is a temporary condition, and that the game will get past it the way one gets over a cold. We’re better off thinking that this painful situation is the way things in the NHL will continue to be.

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  • Published On Jan 23, 2012
  • Boogaard’s dark story points to a painkiller problem in the NHL

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    An easy availability of painkillers and sleeping pills fed Derek Boogaard’s addiction and eventually turned the troubled enforcer into a zombie during his time with the Wild and Rangers. (Photo by Matt Slocum/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    The three-part New York Times series (Part One, Part Two, Part Three) on the life and death of Derek Boogaard certainly sent shock waves around the hockey world and renewed calls from some for fighting to be banned. This series has resonated beyond the sport, as evidenced by the fact that as of Wednesday afternoon, Tuesday’s third installment remained the fourth most-emailed story among all Times articles.

    While fighting and the culture around it in hockey draw a massive amount of attention, the issue of painkiller addiction in the NHL is another hugely significant part of Boogaard’s story — a story he shares with a good number of other players. That addiction deserves equal focus, and perhaps even more.

    We don’t want to diminish the alarming presence of the degenerative neurological disease CTE in Boogaard’s brain that might have been the result of concussions caused by fighting. But despite demands that the league toughen its rules on fighting, that part of the game doesn’t seem likely to change in the near term. However, painkiller addiction isn’t something defended by traditionalists and its victims are likely a wider circle than are the frequent fighters. Considering how contentious the fighting issue is, the painkiller problem may be more immediately fixable.
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  • Published On Dec 07, 2011
  • Cherry is an early season bomb

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    Don Cherry and his brand of rock ‘em, sock ‘em hockey will always have fans. (Carlos Orsonio/AP Photos)

    By Stu Hackel

    The Winnipeg Jets got off to a shaky start Sunday night, at least on the ice (although their fans got off to a terrific start, with a standing ovation for their team in the final minute of a 5-1 loss to Montreal). The Senators are off to an even shakier start, surrendering 11 goals in their first two games. But no one has gotten off to a worse start this season than Don Cherry.

    The bombastic former coach overshadowed the arrival of the NHL season with an opening night tirade on Hockey Night in Canada that a few commenters called “a new low” and eventually forced his usually compliant overlords at the CBC distance to themselves from them, a very rare move. Then he only made things worse in his subsequent attempts to justify his initial remarks.
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  • Published On Oct 10, 2011
  • Research paints a dire picture for the NHL’s concussion victims

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    Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, who was concussed when hit by brother Eric (left) last February, is still feeling the effects and has been sidelined for three preseason games. (Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    The insidious nature of concussions to NHL players continues to make news. Some of that news is good regarding Sidney Crosby, the Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty, the Avalanche’s Peter Mueller and Pierre-Marc Bouchard of the Wild. Some isn’t so good, particularly involving Marc Staal of the Rangers.

    The Blueshirts blueliner, who is considered the top man in their young defense corps, will be held out of the team’s first three preseason games, the result of a concussion he apparently suffered last February and from which he developed symptoms over the summer.
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  • Published On Sep 19, 2011
  • Does the NHL have a painkiller problem?

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    Thanks to his fearless style of play, Ian Laperriere has been no stranger to pain, or painkillers, but he says some players dangerously use the drugs to get high and unwind. (Jim O’Connor-US PRESSWIRE)

    By Stu Hackel

    Ian Laperrière is a highly respected NHLer, a warrior and leader, a man who didn’t fear the consequences of throwing his body at speeding pucks and who paid the price for it with lost teeth, lost vision and an entire lost season while he suffered from post-concussion syndrome. He certainly earned the 2011 Bill Masterton Trophy for his perseverance and dedication to hockey. And when he spoke last week on a Montreal radio station, reflecting on the NHL’s dark summer, Laperriere raised a concern that should resonate throughout the hockey world, if only because of the messenger’s credibility.

    “Today the biggest problem, which isn’t talked about…is pills. It’s painkillers,” Laperrière said.
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  • Published On Sep 06, 2011
  • Belak’s death casts cloud over fighting in NHL

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    It’s no secret enforcers like Wade Belak and Derek Boogaard have one of sports’ most physically and emotionally demanding jobs. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

    By Stu Hackel

    With today’s report in The Toronto Star that Wade Belak suffered from depression, we have a possible explanation for an event that has shocked many who knew him and alarmed many more. Belak, found dead in a Toronto hotel on Wednesday, is the third NHL enforcer to die since May. His death has been reported by some as a suicide, the same talk that surrounded the death of Rick Rypien in mid-August. Derek Boogaard’s case was ruled accidental, due to a lethal mixture of alcohol and pain killers.

    Belak had just retired, but some connection between his occupation as a hockey tough guy and the closely spaced deaths of the other two enforcers has been sought.

    “I think sometimes we get caught up in generalizations,” Allain Roy, Rypien’s agent, told John Branch of The New York Times today. “We have three sad instances where we have three young men who struggled with their lives off the ice. Whether their role played a piece in it, I think it’s almost impossible for anybody to draw that straight line through it — to say, all right, they were enforcers, and this is why this happened to them.”

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  • Published On Sep 02, 2011
  • Wade Belak’s death poses key questions

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    Enforcer Wade Belak (right) spent all or part of 15 seasons in the NHL often fighting on the ice and battling for his job, but he seemed to be a happy guy and untroubled by his violent role. (John Cores/Icon SMI)

    By Stu Hackel

    One hockey enforcer’s death is a sad event. Two is a sad coincidence. But does the third establish a definite connection between them all?

    Wade Belak, who at 35 had just retired after a hockey career that began so long ago that he was a Nordiques draft pick, died yesterday in a Toronto hotel. It has been only two weeks since Rick Rypien died and three-and-a-half months since Derek Boogaard passed away suddenly. It’s macabre. A friend wrote on his Facebook page, “Wade Belak? This is becoming like an Agatha Christie novel.” It’s got people looking for patterns and searching for answers.

    But first, you have to ask the right questions.
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  • Published On Sep 01, 2011


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