Far too many hockey players have the game taken away from them. Take Kris Chucko, for example.
Chuck was a promising young winger out of Burnaby, British Columbia. The Calgary Flames drafted him 24th overall in 2004. He then went on to the University of Minnesota, but struggled in two seasons there.
Chucko turned pro in 2006. His game was progressing over the course of the next three seasons, even earning his NHL call up after a long wait. He would play two games with the Flames in the 2008-09 season.
Then disaster struck. The 24 year old suffered a serious concussion in an accidental collision with a teammate in an AHL game in 2009-10. After a year away, he finally had to accept the truth and retire from the game of hockey.
“As much as everybody freaks out about it on the outside, it’s a million times worse when you’re dealing with it on the inside,” Chucko said. “The research is scary, but I didn’t need the research to tell me what I needed to do. When you deal with it for as long as I did, basically two years straight, I didn’t need to go through it again. It was the worst experience ever.”
The brain trauma was bad enough, but it was his neck pain the ultimately kept him from returning tot he ice.
“It’s my neck that’s real bad right now. I can’t even lift a couple grocery bags, so I’m still trying to rehab that. Even with the concussion gone, I’m still not healthy enough to work out,” he said.
His decision to retired so early allowed him to return to the University of Minnesota in order to earn his business management degree.
“It wasn’t a hard decision for me, especially knowing I couldn’t go back to hockey right now because my neck is such a disaster,” he said. “I always had to be the hardest working guy to get to where I was – I didn’t have the natural skill like a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. So at the end of the day, I can look back and not have any what-ifs, knowing that I always gave everything I had.”