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November 01, 2015

Tom Hirsch

Tom Hirsch is another in a long list of players who had their career spoiled by an unforgiving injury.

In Hirsch's case it was his right shoulder that put a stop on what could have been a solid NHL career. Tim Kerr and Barry Beck are two other examples of NHL players who had to retire because of their shoulder injuries.

Hirsch was a big fellow at 6'4" and 210-215 pounds but very mobile for his size. He grew up in North Minneapolis and Brooklyn, New York. When he scored 77 points (including 42 goals) in 23 games for Patrick Henry High school during the 1980-81 season he caught the attention of NHL scouts.

Hirsch was picked in the 4th round, 33rd overall by Minnesota in the 1981 entry draft. He went on to play for the University of Minnesota between 1981 and 1983. But his biggest thrills came when he went on to represent USA in various international tournaments. He played in the 1982 World Championships and was on the US national team preparing for the 1984 Olympics. Tom eventually made the Olympic team and played in Sarajevo. Later that year he played in the 1984 Canada Cup. These were definitely the highlights of Tom's hockey career.

His troubles began when he dislocated his shoulder during the NHL pre-season 1984-85. But it wasn't until February 16, 1985 in a game against St: Louis that it became a real problem. Tom was checked into the boards by the rugged Dwight Schofield and severely dislocated his right shoulder. This was the start of a long rehabilitation process that included two major operations, one arthroscopic procedure, and nearly three years of physical therapy. The shoulder was repaired by Dr. Charles Neer of the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan. At the time Dr.Neer was considered to be the best surgeon in the world for these kind of injuries.

Tom didn't play a single game in two years, 10 months and three weeks (Feb.16, 1985 - Jan.5, 1988). He worked extremely hard with his physical therapy to strengthen his shoulder and get in shape for his comeback. Tom admitted that his shoulder wasn't 100 % but was confident that it was good enough to play with.

On January 5, 1988 Tom stepped onto the Nassau Coliseum ice at 1:23 of the first period. It was his first taste of game action since that February day in 1985. Everything looked to go smoothly at first as he made a few easy passes, took a soft hit, threw a couple of checks and even tried to stickhandle his way through the Islanders defense.

That however changed dramatically midway through the second period as he went on to check Pat Flatley in the corner. He missed Flatley and went crashing into the boards with his right elbow. His right shoulder went numb.

"I knew right away," he said. "I've been there before."

Tom immediately skated away to the dressing room grabbing his arm. What looked liked the comeback story of the year lasted barely for two periods. Later that night Tom still tried to convince himself that he would be back.

"I think I'll play again this season, but it's hard to tell. After what I've been through, what's one more obstacle? I can't quit this game."

Unfortunately that's exactly what he had to do. Quit the game. The shoulder could not be repaired and Tom's short and frustrating hockey career was over.

Despite all this he could look back at a pretty exciting time in the hockey rinks. By the time he was 21 years old he played in the NHL, World Championships, Canada Cup and the Olympics. How many players can say that ?

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