September 23, 2015

Ryan Whitney

Every hockey player retires for their own reasons. Unfortunately far too many of these players are forced to retire due to injuries.

Take Ryan Whitney for example. The 32 year old defenseamn hobbled off the ice with "nursing home ankles."

“Unfortunately, my body broke down on me sooner than I had hoped. I’m 32 years old and you’re likely to find stronger and more stable ankles and feet on the residents at your local nursing home," said Whitney, one of the most open and well spoken athletes you will ever meet.

Whitney was once an up and coming offensive defenseman with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Boston University product was drafted fifth overall back in 2002. He was blessed with size and effortless skating ability. He also had strong puck handling skills and superior vision and hockey sense.

He would leave school early to turn professional. He would quickly rise to post near-60 point seasons with Sidney Crosby's Penguins, seeing lots of time manning the blue line on the Pens power play.

In the summer of 2008 it was discovered that Whitney had unnaturally high arches in his feet and he would need osteotomy surgery to realign the bones in his feet. He would never be the same player again.

Perhaps at the advice of their medical team the Penguins traded Whitney to Anaheim in exchange for Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi just before the Penguins won the Stanley Cup.

Whitney continued to struggle to find his old game with his reconstructed new feet, leading to his trade about a year later to the Edmonton Oilers, in exchange for Lubomir Visnovsky.

Whitney's days in Edmonton were filled with more disappointment as his feet required further surgery as well as season ending ankle surgery.

Though he tried to play through the pain for three seasons, Whitney's career was all but over. He was unable to skate at the level that he needed to compete in the NHL. His days as a promising prospect and as a rising star with Pittsburgh seemed like a distant memory. He failed to stick in both Florida and St. Louis.

The highlight of Whitney's career was playing in the Olympics. He was a bit of a surprise addition due to injuries to Paul Martin.

“My mind has been flooded with so many amazing memories all day. From the early rides to the rink with my dad, to having the privilege of representing my country in the Olympic Games, it truly has been a wonderful journey,” he wrote in a retirement statement released on Twitter.

Whitney was part of Team USA's silver medal winning team at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Injuries continued and chased him from the National Hockey League by 2013. But he did play in Sochi in 2014. Well, sort of.

Whitney played with Sochi HK of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League in 2014-15 season, several months after the Sochi Olympics in 2014. No he was not part of USA's Olympic efforts. In fact he already been a year removed from his NHL days, having spent the previous season in the minor leagues.

While Sochi was a nice city, his experience there was something of a nightmare as the KHL team ran into financial distress. Whitney and other players were forced to seek legal options for missed paychecks.

Despite that, he preferred to focus on the positives of the experience.

To be honest with you, I am very happy I came over here. It's obvious the past couple years, since my last ankle surgery in Edmonton, were a battle for me in North America. When I got hurt in 2010-11 it was the beginning of the end of my NHL career. I just haven't been able to skate like I once did. In the NHL now, you have to be able to move playing any position, but with the speed and skill of NHL forwards, you just don't see many defensemen playing anymore who aren't elite skaters. Guys who can make that quick, tight turn and explode out of the corner to pin a guy on the wall or get up the ice into the rush. So for me over here, having more time with the puck and having less pressure than in the NHL has been a blessing."

"After the season-ending injury with Edmonton I talked about before, I lost my passion for the game. I had a negative attitude and constantly kind of gave myself the "why did this happen to me?" question. I was blaming coaches and becoming bitter towards the game that had given me so much instead of looking at myself in the mirror and being appreciative of what I had. It will always upset me how I let my own attitude get in the way of the end of my NHL career, but I learned some valuable lessons the hard way.

In 481 NHL games Ryan Whitney had 50 goals and 209 assists.

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