July 15, 2013

Blake Geoffrion Retires

It promised to be a great story of destiny. However it was not meant to be. Sadly, but inevitably, it came to an official end today.

Blake Geoffrion, once a promising young hockey prospect with spectacular bloodlines, announced his retirement from hockey at the age of 25. 

Geoffrion was the first fourth generation NHLer in history.

His great-grandfather was Howie Morenz, arguably the most exciting player of the first 50 years of the National Hockey League. Blake was especially close to Grandpa Bernie, who became better known as Boom Boom. He was the second player to score 50 goals in a season, after Rocket Richard. Father Danny, a first-round draft choice of the Montreal Canadiens and played three seasons.

The family also boasts Hartland Monahan, Boom Boom Geoffrion’s son-in-law, who played 334 NHL games for a series of teams. Monahan’s son Shane played baseball for the Seattle Mariners.

But Blake was not just a kid from a great family getting a shot at "the bigs." In fact his story was anything but the typical Canadian story of hockey royalty. Yes his great-grandfather and grandfather are Hockey Hall of Famers and true legends of the game, but Blake's story is seemingly unlikely. He was born in Plantation, Florida and grew up in Nashville. His dad took rose the ranks with a bank in the south eastern United States, but it never stopped young Blake's genetic love for hockey.

He grew up to be a top prospect. Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by his hometown Nashville Predators (yes, you did read that right), Geoffrion was a star at the University of Wisconsin (where he studied consumer affairs). He was such a star that by his senior year he was named as the Hobey Baker Award winner as the best player in all of US College hockey. He also starred with the United States national junior team.

After half a season apprenticing in the minor leagues he made the jump to the Predators, playing in 42 games over two seasons, plus 12 playoff games. Wearing number 5 in honour of his grand-father, Blake did not disappoint early curious watchers. He scored a goal in his third game and scoring a hat trick a couple of weeks later.

Not unlike a lot of young players, Geoffrion slowed down soon after his debut. Though he struggled through inconsistency and some nagging injuries, it came as a huge surprise when Nashville, always looking for a marketing angle, traded away a rare home-grown hockey hero. 

Geoffrion was traded away for unrestricted free agent-to-be rental Hal Gill. The team acquiring the young prospect - the Montreal Canadiens. Geoffrion would play 13 games (scoring 2 goals) to finish the season. He would wear #57, honouring both his grandfather (Bernie wore 5) and great-grandfather (Morenz wore 7)

Geoffrion's promising career essentially came to a close on November 9, 2012. With the NHL in the middle of a labour stoppage, Geoffrion was playing for the Canadiens farm team in the AHL. On this particular night in a game against the Syracuse Crunch, Geoffrion would suffer a compressed skull fracture following a clean hip check by Jean-Philippe Cote. The hit was spectacular, cartwheeling Geoffrion. Unfortunately, Cote's skate jabbed in through his skull, just above the left ear, causing the fracture and serious bleeding.

Geoffrion required emergency surgery to repair the fracture as it could have been a life-threatening injury. The trauma to the head scared Geoffrion enough to make the wise decision to give up his hockey dreams.

“After suffering an injury in November and taking time to recover and reflect, I have decided to step away from the game of hockey for the time being,” Geoffrion said in a press statement.

"I love the game of hockey more than anything, and this decision tears me up inside, it's killing me," Blake told John Buccigross in a fantastic feature story for ESPN. "But we are talking about my brain. Not a knee or a shoulder. I want to have a family, have kids and a strong quality of life for another 60 or 70 years. The first three months of recovery were hell. The plate in my head is still sensitive. I've tried to put a hockey helmet on four or five times, and I can't even put that on yet."

Geoffrion is a high profile but all too common case of a promising career unfulfilled by the dangers of hockey. He has made a wise decision to leave the game he loves so much.

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