Concussion ends NHL career for Dave Scatchard

Threat of further brain injury forces forced to retire from National Hockey League.

Dave Scatchard celebrates a goal during his tenure with the Canucks.

Dave Scatchard won’t be suiting up for the NHL again, a decision that took the  former Salmon Arm resident by surprise.

Scatchard was told by the Mayo Clinic in Pheonix, Arizona that he must retire or risk further brain injury.

At 35, he has sustained three diagnosed concussions in the NHL, the most recent at the end of last season.

“It was a little surprising,” he told the Observer last week from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz.  “Up until a month ago I was pretty sure I was going to be playing again. I haven’t had a chance for it to sink in.”

And he’s understandably disappointed.

“My career was beginning to wind down just because I’m kind of older, but I felt I could have played three, four or five more years, as far as I felt with strength and conditioning.”

The injury, however, hasn’t been easy. Rotational movements and moving his head from side to side can be difficult.

“Pushing my kids on the swing set, things like that where there’s that kind of movement. Definitely things are affecting me and I’m working in the Mayo Clinic at physical therapy, trying to help with some of these symptoms.”

(CLICK HERE to view Dave Scatchard’s career statistics and bio.)

Scatchard moved to Salmon Arm when he was about 11 from Hinton, Alta. His mom and dad still live in town. He played minor hockey here, with his team winning the provincials one year.

“I have good memories of my minor hockey days in Salmon Arm. Even though it was only a few years, I enjoyed every minute of it.”

He has played with the Vancouver Canucks, New York Islanders, Boston Bruins, Phoenix Coyotes, Nashville Predators and the St. Louis Blues.

Asked about the highlights of his NHL career, he names two. The first, his first NHL game. He was in Japan with the Canucks versus Anaheim in 1997.

“I was a pretty young guy, 20 or 21. My goal my whole life had been to make the NHL. When I finally jumped onto the ice the first time, I didn’t expect there would be a high-diving board behind the net,” he smiles, explaining that the ice rink was actually a converted swimming pool.

“My first game, I always told my parents I’d fly them to it. I didn’t realize it would be in Japan. I had to buy them a big-screen TV. My mom was taking pictures of the big screen like she was in Japan.”

The second highlight was scoring two hat tricks in one month when he was with the Islanders.

“I ended up leading the Islanders that year. For that to happen to a player like me, that was kind of special.”

His favourite part of being in the NHL?

“The life, teammates, friends, people I got to meet along the way, the amazing experiences I got to live because I played in the NHL. Those are things nobody can take away from me and, hopefully, if my memory holds up with these concussions, I can keep them in my memory.”

With the spotlight currently on concussions in the NHL, Scatchard doesn’t think they can be eliminated from the game. He said even the best helmet can’t prevent them, but being aware of who’s on the ice, staying out of vulnerable situations, and having fast reactions can make a difference. Luck also plays a big part.

“I know guys who have never had them, and guys who are struggling with them right now…It’s part of the game, I caught the wrong end of it. I’m very blessed to have the career I did, it’s been very good for me in every other way. I’m sad I’m banged up and happy I still have mostly everything functioning at a relatively high rate.”

He thinks the NHL rule changes regarding hits are a good start, “but I also think it will be the players ultimately dictating where they finish a guy off who doesn’t see them, as hard as they normally would…

“It might not mean to bury a guy who has his head down, but it’s two large forces flying on the ice at 20 or 30 miles per hour. It’s an unfortunate part of the game – I think the NHL is doing a good job with high hits and hits to the head.”

Asked about having bigger rinks, he said that would help a bit, but probably won’t happen.

“Whether you can convince ownerships to take a couple of million dollars of seat sales out, that’s another question,” he said, adding that the thinking is “silly,” given that losing a player to a concussion can cost the same amount.

“I think one thing people could do, is get really flexible boards and glass some teams have. I think the Phoenix Coyotes installed some that were more forgiving. That would really help a lot, instead of running into a brick wall…”

Asked about the hardest parts of being an NHL player, aside from the toll on his body, he said “the sacrifices you have to make along the way. There’s a lot of pressure, you can never really mentally take a rest because if you do there’s a chance somebody will take your job. You have to stay in that focused mode for your whole career. It means eating properly, sleeping properly, not taking any days off. But it’s a small price to pay to get to play a game for a living.”

Now that he won’t be playing in the NHL, Scatchard can spend more time with his business interests and his family. He has a spouse and three children, ages four, two and one, and he owns a pub/restaurant, a variety of real estate, a property management company through which he rents his high-end properties to celebrity clients, and a production company he plans to use to produce motivational DVDs for young athletes and hockey players.

His advice to young athletes? Believe in your dreams. Anything is possible, even if you come from a small town.

“Never give up chasing something or doing something you love, no matter how many people tell you it can’t be done or won’t be done. I think if you’re passionate about it, it’ll live inside you and you’ll eat and breathe it until it becomes part of you.”

 

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