November 27, 2015

Gary Sargent

Gary Sargent was a hard luck defenseman. His promising NHL career was interrupted by a series of knee and back injuries.

A talented puck handler with the Los Angeles Kings (1975-1978) and Minnesota North Stars (1978-1983), retired at the age of 29 after playing in just 56 of a possible 240 regular season games in his final 3 seasons.

As a result, Sargent's career was forever accompanied by the dreaded "what if?" tag. Who knows what he would have achieved had fate dealt him a better hand.

"Towards the end of that first season with Minnesota, I jumped up to hit a guy and felt my back pop," he recalls. "I played the rest of the season, and much of the next, in awful pain - I'd get sudden back spasms and numbness down my leg. In March 1980 I finally decided to have surgery."

Sargent desperately wanted to resume his NHL career and consented to a delicate and risky spinal fusion operation at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota. Prior to fusing a pair of herniated discs, doctors warned Sargent that he faced only a 40% chance of walking after the operation.

"I guess I was taking quite a risk but I really did want to come back and play. The surgery went alright but I rushed back too quickly and wound up hurting myself again."

On top of his back problems, Sargent needed three knee operations in his last season. After playing the 1983 playoffs, Sargent called it quits.

"I guess I saw the writing on the wall" he joked. "I figured there had to be easier ways to earn a living without seeing a doctor every other day."

In 402 regular season games, Sargent collected 61 goals and 161 points. His best season was in 1976-77 with Los Angeles when he scored 14 goals and 54 points in his only full NHL season. He was a good mobile defenseman who often played the point on the power play, though more because of a lack of a true quarterback on the team. He would have made an ideal second pointman on the power play.

After retiring he opened up a marine shop just outside of the "Twin Cities" in Minnesota, as well as doing some part time scouting for the Kings. He also could rely on another profession if he really needed to.

I'm a pretty good weather barometer," he jokes. "My back and my knee let me know if there's a storm coming!"

No comments: