Balon is fighting a long and now mostly silent battle against Multiple Sclerosis. He was diagnosed with the incurable disease back in 1974, convincing him to retire prematurely. He was best known as a 30 goal scorer and all-star with the New York Rangers, although is remembered fondly also in Montreal.
In the past 3 decades he has slowly surrendered to a progressive strain of the disease that affects the central nervous system. "Everything below his neck is intact, but gone, really," writes O'Connor. "Squeeze his arm and Balon feels the pressure of your fingers, though his body is unable to respond. He takes Tylenol to ease a persistent low-grade ache and muscle relaxants to prevent his deadened limbs from twitching involuntarily."
In the past four years he has lost his ability to speak.
"(The words) started to come less and less about four years ago, when the multiple sclerosis that has gradually transformed Balon's once-athletic physique into a withered coffin of flesh and bone began its assault on his voice."
Balon spent much of the 1960s struggling for ice time with the New York Rangers then the Montreal Canadiens. Originally a Ranger, he was traded to the Habs as a big piece of the Jacques Plante trade. He would be a serviceable winger in Montreal, but never a star.
After the NHL's first expansion, Balon got his first chance at a starring role, re-joining the Rangers on the "Bulldog Line" with Walt Tkaczuk and Bill Fairbairn. From 1968 to 1971, Balon emerged as an NHL All-Star and led the Rangers in goals twice. In 1970-71 he was named as the Rangers most popular season.The next season saw Balon moved to Vancouver, where he was lukewarmly accepted by fans when he failed to produce goals like he did in New York. He wound up his career in 1974 with the Quebec Nordiques, then still part of the World Hockey Association.
While his body today is all but useless, his mind is completely bright just like you or I. Much of the caring for Dave Balon these days fall on his daughter, Jodi. His wife of 47 years, Gwen, remains by his side, but sadly she is ravaged by disease as well. She is a victim of osteoporosis and stroke."The women who love him hope an earlier generation of hockey fans have not forgotten about the bow-legged Prairie boy who helped Montreal win a pair of Stanley Cups in 1965 and '66, played in four NHL All-Star Games, and fought for his teammates wherever he went."
There's no better online profile of Dave Balon than O'Connor's masterpiece at National Post.com. I highly encourage you to read it, though be warned it is a heart-wrencher. It is an excellent piece of journalism/story writing.