FILE - In this Dec. 30, 2011, file photo, Chicago Blackhawks’ Daniel Carcillo and Detroit Red Wings’ Todd Bertuzzi fight during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Cherney, File)

Faces of concussions: NHL’s head-on battle with an epidemic

Daniel Carcillo spends his days now trying to manage the damage the sport did to him

Wearing a black shirt with “Fight for your happiness” on the front and “Sick not weak” on the back, Daniel Carcillo eats an apple as his wife makes a cappuccino nearby and their oldest daughter scampers around the kitchen.

This is the family he always wanted, just not the life he expected.

Carcillo is hurting inside and out after seven documented concussions in the National Hockey League and what he believes could be literally hundreds of traumatic brain injuries. Once his wife Ela, son Austin, daughters Laila and Scarlett and dog Bubba left the house, Carcillo explained where his head is at. It has been nearly a year since his last round of neurological treatment and right now the bad days outnumber the good. Darkness has returned.

This is a bad day.

“I’m going to choose when I’m going to go,” Carcillo said. “I’ll make that decision of how much pain I’m going to put my loved ones through that are around me.”

He is just 34, hung up his skates in 2015 and wants to be known as Daniel Carcillo who used to play hockey, not Daniel Carcillo the hockey player. He spends his days now trying to manage the damage the sport did to him while also crusading against the concussions crisis that has hit the NHL over the past decade-plus. The league has taken steps to address the topic, but it has not faded from view by any means as the Stanley Cup Final opens Monday.

READ MORE: Banning any head contact would mean end of all hits in NHL, Bettman says

The league last fall settled a lawsuit for $18.9 million with more than 300 retired players after winning a key victory against class-action status. It included $22,000 for each player and provisions for testing but no acknowledgement of liability for the players’ claims the NHL failed to protect them from head injuries or warn them of the risks involved with playing. Commissioner Gary Bettman has consistently denied there is a conclusive link between repeated blows to the head and the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Carcillo calls the concussions issue an epidemic, though the alumni association and attorneys involved in lawsuits against the league cannot provide a real estimate of just how many former players might be suffering the same problems as Carcillo — the kind of problems loved ones of players like Todd Ewen and Wade Belak noticed before their suicides.

Carcillo doesn’t remember any of his first five concussions but can’t seem to escape the anxiety, depression, lack of impulse control and suicidal thoughts that creep in. He feels better in the immediate aftermath of functional neurology therapy but that only helps Carcillo get back to his “new normal.” It also costs $10,000 each time.

“My greatest fear moving forward is that I will contract some sort of neurodegenerative disease like early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, CTE,” Carcillo said. “And then my wife and my two daughters and my son will have to watch me deteriorate and die.”

Carcillo spends his days now speaking out about the dangers of brain injuries in hockey and other sports. He frequently takes to social media, hoping to use the platform for the greater good.

But time is running out for the journeyman forward who played most recently for the Chicago Blackhawks. Carcillo doesn’t have a full-time job and estimates he has two years until he goes bankrupt. He considers selling his two Stanley Cup rings to pay for treatment and support his family.

Carcillo wants his day in court with the NH, to chart a path for the rest of his life and to save others. It is also a battle just to save himself after those 429 NHL games over nine seasons.

“I keep up with my treatment,” Carcillo said. “I describe it as when you’re losing your quality of life. Good days and bad days are normal, all good days aren’t normal and all bad days aren’t normal but you just have to weigh it. I’ve been in really, really bad places, like on the edge of killing myself. I just kind of weigh it against that — not waiting until I get to that place.”

Eric Lindros is fine most days.

The jarring Scott Stevens shoulder-to-head hit on Lindros in Game 7 of the 2000 Eastern Conference final that was applauded and legal at the time is cringe-worthy now. It came two years after Lindros took another devastating hit from Darius Kasparaitis.

Lindros was concussed at least five times during a dominant but injury-shortened career that landed him a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Now a 46-year-old husband and father, he isn’t sure what the benchmark should be for how he should be feeling. He his own baseline.

“I’d like to think I’m pretty normal,” Lindros said. “I think so. We all have our moments.”

Lindros could easily be the poster boy for concussions in the NHL given his experience as a star whose career was cut short. He was aware of the lawsuit but didn’t join. Lindros doesn’t want the threat of concussions to deter kids — even his own — from playing hockey. Still, he ponders an uncertain future.

“You’d be a fool not to,” he said.

Carcillo can’t change the punch to the head that gave him his seventh concussion but wants to document every step of his journey so that if he can’t save himself, maybe he can save others.

“It’s been pretty, pretty miserable: a lot of searching, a lot of treatment and a lot of money spent, a lot of friends lost,” he said. “I need to get it figured out, or else I don’t think I’ll be here that long. If I continue to feel this way, it doesn’t bode well for my future.”

READ MORE: NFL says concussions down 29 per cent in regular season

___

Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Near the top of Stanley Street in Nelson, a newly installed waterline will soon be joined to an old one that runs into the city from Selous Creek near Ymir, until now used only as emergency backup. The new line will take Selous Creek water to the Mountain Station Reservoir as a more permanent addition to the water supply. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Completion of Selous Creek line improves Nelson’s water supply

Project adds a new source of treated water

Get some help writing your novel at the Nelson Library online this month. Photo: Marcus Aurelius/Pexels
CHECK THIS OUT: Write that novel!

The Nelson Library can help you during National Novel Writing Month

The bobsled race has traditionally been a staple event at the carnival. File photo
Upcoming Rossland Winter Carnival cancelled due to COVID-19 crisis

This is the first time the carnival won’t be held in decades

Touchstones Nelson archivist and collections manager JP Stienne facilitates a members-only, behind-the-scenes tour of the Shawn Lamb Archives. Photo: Submitted
Membership drive begins at Touchstones Museum

Sign up by Nov. 20 to enter into a draw

The Little Brown Myotis bat is common and widespread across B.C., but endangered in Canada and expected to decline in B.C. due to White-nose Syndrome. Photo: Submitted
Celebrate International Bat Week

Bats are about to begin migrating or hibernating

Physical distancing signs are a common sight in B.C. stores and businesses. THE CANADIAN PRESS
272 more COVID-19 cases for B.C., outbreak at oil sands project

Three new health care outbreaks, three declared over

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for the Mission RCMP, giving an update on the investigation at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 30. Patrick Penner photo.
VIDEO: Prisoner convicted of first-degree murder still at large from Mission Institution

When 10 p.m. count was conducted, staff discovered Roderick Muchikekwanape had disappeared

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

The Kimberley Dynamiters' next two exhibition games have been postponed due to an individual testing positive for COVID-19. Paul Rodgers file.
Member of Kimberley Dynamiters tests positive for COVID-19

Exhibition games in Fernie, Creston postponed

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Most Read