Concussions in Nelson: A former NHL player flinches at the past

Nelson's Danny Gare is part of a class-action lawsuit against the NHL related to concussions.

Nelson's Danny Gare played over seven seasons with the Buffalo Sabres during his 13-year NHL career.

Part five of a series on the people who have suffered concussions as well as those who treat them. For other stories, click here.

 

The hit still stands out for Danny Gare even though it happened over four decades ago.

Gare was playing his first junior hockey game with the Calgary Centennials in the fall of 1971. The Nelson native scored in the first period against the Victoria Cougars, but in the second he was hammered by future NHL player Jack McIlhargey.

A picture of the hit, which Gare’s mother still has, ran in the Victoria Times. In it, Gare said fans can be seen looking horrified. He was taken off the ice and sent to a local hospital, where he spent the night vomiting and being woken up every hour by medical staff. The next day he flew back to Calgary with his team.

“I remember taking a day off at practice and we had to play the Edmonton Oil Kings the next day,” said Gare. “I remember the morning skate, [head coach and general manager] Scotty Monro says to me, ‘Hey kid, do you hear the trains?’ Meaning are you okay to play tonight?

“I played. Probably shouldn’t have, but I did. But that’s the way it was back in the day. You sucked it up and went out and played.”

Gare is 62 now. After a 13-year career in the NHL ended in the 1986-87 season, Gare has since become an ambassador for the Buffalo Sabres. He’s also taking part in a class-action lawsuit against the NHL that alleges the league never properly warned players about the dangers of concussions.

Gare counts himself as lucky. Despite being involved in 114 fights, according to hockeyfights.com, he doesn’t believe he suffered many concussions during his career. The worst came from a hit by Scott Stevens. Gare had a flu at the time and says now he shouldn’t have been playing, but felt obligated because the Sabres were fighting for a playoff spot.

Stevens laid him out with a hit that not only concussed Gare from the whiplash but crushed his sternum. He had to wear a flak jacket for a year after. “It still hurts now,” says Gare. “We all know how hard Scott Stevens hit.”

Still, he worries about the cumulative effect years of hockey has on his head. He has memory loss, but isn’t sure if that’s due to brain trauma or his own aging. As a precaution he gets tested every couple years at the University of Buffalo’s concussion clinic.

“I guess maybe I’m fortunate, I don’t know. I feel fortunate. I feel like I’m mentally okay. You never know. Things can change.”

It’s the memories of his father’s head injuries, not his own, that haunt Gare.

Ernie Gare Sr. played for the Nelson Maple Leafs from 1950-63. He died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, at just 52. Danny Gare believes now that years of concussions contributed to his father’s death. There’s scientific evidence to support Gare’s suspicion: a paper released in 2010 by a group of Boston-based researchers found links between head trauma and ALS.

“Back in the day he never wore helmets,” says Gare. “He had so many concussions, I can’t remember how many. I’ve seen him with black eyes, when he used to come home from games in Spokane or Trail it wasn’t fun to see.

“It was tough games back then when the Leafs played, they were battles, man, they were hard battles. I remember watching them. I think [concussions] were part of it. I don’t know that for a fact but I’m just saying, I would think that would [explain it].”

Gare is now in the awkward position of representing the NHL team he played over seven seasons for while taking part in a lawsuit against the league. He approves of the league’s progress on concussion awareness and medical treatment, but thinks the game is too fast, the players bigger and stronger, the money too good to walk away from.

Concussions, Gare says, will always be a part of hockey. What worries Gare is the health of his contemporaries, the ones suffering outside the spotlight who didn’t know what was happening to their brains as players.

“I think it’s something that’s needed,” says Gare. “I think that players who have played the game [for owners] and all the money they made, I just feel they could give something back to help their lives be a little more endurable for whatever they have left.”

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