By CHRIS PERRELLI
You probably wouldn’t be able to find Steve Montador on a highlight reel.
Most hockey fans are hard pressed to remember him at all. However, to those lives he touched over his career, Montador will always be remembered for more than his on ice abilities.
Montador’s passing in his Mississauga home on Feb. 15 deeply saddened the hockey world. As the news broke, many friends, teammates and pretty much anyone who he came in contact with, honoured him and his love for the sport.
Former Buffalo Sabres teammate Ryan Miller took to Twitter to say, “Monty laughed a lot and made the rink a fun place. So sad. Just spent some time with him this summer.”
Another former Sabres teammate Luke Adam joined the Twitter conversation saying, “So sad to hear the passing of my former teammate Steve Montador. ‘I will always remember how good you were to me as a rookie Monty.”
The shear level of respect from players in the league goes to show how immensely he impacted his teammates on and, more importantly, off the ice.
Montador went undrafted in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), but after scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace in his final year with the Peterborough Petes, the Calagary Flames signed him to a contract. He spent a couple seasons in the American Hockey League (AHL) before helping the Flames reach the Stanley Cup final in 2004.
Montador went on to play 571 games for six different teams including Florida, Anaheim, Chicago and Buffalo.
Montador’s gritty brand of hockey, and overall good nature made him a valuable asset to any hockey team. Unfortunately, his style of play led to a barrage of injuries including multiple concussions; none worse than in 2012 that ended his season, and ultimately his career. The post-concussion symptoms lasted though the 2012 lock-out and his long recovery led to him being bought out of his contract.
Montador spoke openly about how the concussion issues impacted his life and admitted to battling depression over the years as a result of the head trauma.
In March 2013, during his recovery, he opened up about his issues with depression and anxiety.
“I know people talk about sports being a microcosm for life, and it’s very true that way,” he said. “I can see why people have a hard time with being taken away from something they love to do.”
“There’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety and depression. I’ve had a lot of help to work through that, and I feel like I’ve taken the right steps.”
The cause of death has yet to be confirmed but some have speculated his death would be related to those of Wade Belak and Rick Rypien; both committed suicide in 2011.
In more recent years, the correlation between fighting, head trauma and depression has been a hot-button issue in the hockey world. However, unlike Belak and Rypien, Montador was much more than a punching bag.
While Montador was no stranger to the fisticuffs, he was not stereotyped as a fighter. This is sure to spark a debate over the severity of concussions in hockey. Fighting has notably decreased over the 2014-2015 season (0.34 fights per game) relative to 2008-2009 (0.60 fights per game) but open-ice, bone-crushing body checks are still a nightly occurrence, and should always be.
In such a contact sport, can the league ever eliminate concussions?
Short answer, no.
However, there are steps to be taken, but taking out body-contact is not one of them. This is a perfect scenario to reference how important it is to police yourself as a player.
Knowing when a player is vulnerable and allowing yourself to avoid contact with the head is on the players.
Sure players will always get hurt, and they sign up for that the minute they strap on the equipment. But decreasing the amount of head trauma on a player is so important. The player will eventually return from a head injury, but they are not the same when they come back. Each hit to the head makes them more susceptible to head trauma, and the effects are more apparent as the player gets older.
While it’s unfair to speculate if Montador’s death was a direct result of his depression, it’s certainly fair to reference his head injuries.
Further than his head trauma, in his March 2013 statement, Montador references his ending career as source of his depression and anxiety.
It may not all be a direct result of his head trauma. OHL player Terry Trafford committed suicide in 2014 after his hockey career was coming to an end. He had battled depression, and it is believed that the end of the NHL dream plays a large role.
I can understand to a certain extent the feeling after hockey.
I played rep hockey for most of my life, and during that time, hockey is all you know and love. While fairly unrealistic, I had aspirations of one day putting on an NHL jersey, but when those dreams are over, it’s crushing.
From that moment on, no game of hockey will ever compare or mean as much as games in your career. When it’s all over, there is a recovery period. I went through it myself; there is certainly a long period of sadness.
I remember how down I was about my situation, and I consider myself a mentally healthy individual. I could not imagine the lows that someone suffering from a mental disease would feel.
Montador’s death will be a topic of discussion about player safety and mental health, no doubt. But now is a time for mourning.