The news earlier this week that Steve Montador, former defenseman in the National Hockey League (NHL) had died at the age of 35, came as a surprise to hockey fans. A popular player during his several seasons with the Calgary Flames in the early 2000s, he suffered a concussion in 2012, and spoke very openly about his struggle to overcome the injury in subsequent months. The cause of his death is still unclear.
However, his death at such a young age follows a worrying pattern of NHL players having their lives cut short in tragic circumstances. In 2011, the death of three so-called enforcers, players’ whose main responsibility is to engage in fights with opponents, raised concerns about the growing prevalence of violence in the game. While traditionalists have defended fighting as having been part of the game since its inception, others argued that the tendency of encouraging such clashes and even reveling in the violence is unhealthy and placing players under increased strain. Researchers have documented the cost to the health of players by the prevalence of concussion cases.
There has also been a fair share of tragedies and unavoidable accidents that have resulted in the deaths of revered hockey stars. This list of 12 looks at a series of incidents over the past 20 years that have resulted in the fatality of an NHL player during their career.
12 Yanick Dupre
Dupre played parts of three seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, reaching a total of 35 appearances. He died tragically at the age of 24, after a 16-month battle with leukemia. As a mark of respect to his legacy, the Flyers set up the Yannick Dupre award for the player that best displays good character on and off the ice. There is a similar award given by the American Hockey League to the player who has contributed most to the community. During his short playing career, Dupre played left wing for the Flyers, scoring two goals with no assists. He also played several seasons with the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League. He died in 1997.
11 Steve Chiasson
The Carolina Hurricanes player was involved in a single vehicle accident, on May 3rd, 1999, following a team party. According to police records, he was more than three-and-a-half times over the state limit for driving, with a blood alcohol content of .27. He was driving well over the speed limit, at 74 in a 55 miles per hour zone, and police said that he had not been wearing a seat belt. He had been drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in 1985, and performed well during his career. In the 1992-1993 season, he participated in the league’s all-star game. While he had struggled with injury problems during the season prior to his death, he returned for the play-offs and scored his last goal in the NHL against the Boston Bruins.
10 Dmitri Tertyshny
The Flyers' defenseman was only 22 when, during a trip to British Columbia with teammates in 1999, he was killed in a tragic boating accident. He was travelling at the front of the craft when he was apparently thrown over the side by a wake. The boat, unable to be stopped in time, drove over him and he became caught in the propeller, causing several serious injuries from which he bled to death. Although a 911 call was made after the boat returned to shore, it proved too late to save his life. Tertyshny had been preparing for his second training camp as an NHL player which was due to start the following month.
9 Roman Lyashenko
Roman Lyashenko was a 24-year-old forward with the New York Rangers when he was found dead in his hotel room in Turkey, during a vacation in July 2003. Turkish media reports put the death down to a suicide, saying that he had hung himself with his belt. Lyashenko’s NHL career began with the Dallas Stars in 1999, before he was traded to New York in early 2002. He scored 12 goals in two seasons with Dallas, before playing a season in the American Hockey League from 2002-2003. He played for the Rangers on several occasions during the season when he was called up. In total, he played 139 career games in the NHL.
8 Sergei Zholtok
Sergei Zholtok established himself in a ten-year NHL career that began as a second round draft pick with the Boston Bruins, in 1992. Remarkably, it was only when he was forced to leave a game in January 2003, that he became aware that he suffered from an irregular heartbeat, a condition that caused him to miss seven games and spend time in hospital. He returned to the ice, but when playing in Europe during 2004 during the NHL lockout, he became unwell late in a game in Minsk, Belarus. He left the ice and collapsed later that evening in the locker-room. Over the course of his successful NHL career, Zholtok played 588 times for six different teams.
7 Luc Bourdon
A rookie defenseman playing with the Vancouver Canucks, Luc Bourdon was killed in a fatal motorcycle accident in New Brunswick, in May 2008. He was just 21 years old when he died. He had begun to make his mark in the NHL after early injury problems had held up his development. During his first season with the Canucks, he played nine NHL games, and in the season before his death, he played 27 games and scored two goals. In an interview in February 2008, Bourdon had explained how some people had already given up on him because he had taken longer to emerge at the top level, but he now felt ready for his career to move forward.
6 Tom Cavanagh
Tom Cavanagh was found dead in a parking lot in early January 2011. According to a statement released by his family shortly afterwards, the 28-year-old NHL player had been in a long battle with mental illness, which they said had surpassed his athletic achievements on the ice. He played with the San Jose Sharks during the 2007-08 season, but after that, his career had become plagued with injuries while he was playing in the American Hockey League. These problems had left his future in the sport uncertain. But during his short career, he had made an impact. He held the Sharks record for the fastest point for a rookie during a game, with an assist on a goal scored just 36 seconds in to his first appearance.
5 Derek Boogaard
The New York Rangers player died of an accidental drug overdose on May 13, 2011, in Minneapolis. At the time, Boogaard was recovering from a concussion that he had recently suffered. He had attended a rehabilitation center in California, in April of the same year to try and help deal with his addiction problems. According to an indictment in a New York court last year, two individuals were responsible for providing Boogaard with drugs that at least contributed to his fatal overdose. After taking one of the painkillers on May 12th, he went out drinking with friends in the city and was found dead the next day.
4 Rick Rypien
Rick Rypien was found dead at his home in Alberta, on August 15, 2011, after just having signed a one-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets the previous month. He had played for several years with the Vancouver Canucks, but had been forced to take breaks from playing to deal with personal issues. During his first shift on the ice in his debut NHL game, he scored a goal for the Canucks. Reports suggested that he had been suffering from depression prior to his death. He was a fan favorite on all of the teams where he played because of his commitment to the team and willingness to put everything on the line during a game. The tragedy of his death was increased by the fact that he was preparing to return to Winnipeg, where he had enjoyed a very successful career at the minor league level in previous seasons.
3 Wade Belak
Wade Belak’s sudden death on August 31st, 2011, was the third death of an NHL player in as many months. The 35-year-old built up a reputation as a fighter during his playing career, but everyone who knew him responded with shock when he was found hanging in a Toronto hotel room. Although his family acknowledged that he had suffered bouts of depression, he was considered to be a well-liked player who enjoyed making jokes and playing the game. Just prior to his death, he had been preparing to embark on a broadcasting career with the first episode of a new podcast he presented having been released.
2 September 7th, 2011, Plane Crash In Russia
In what was the worst tragedy to hit hockey, a plane crash in Russia killed the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team in September 2011. Their squad included many figures who had made their mark in the NHL, including Pavol Demitra, Ruslan Salei and Karlis Skrastins. A total of 43 were killed in the initial crash, and another player who survived the impact died a few days later in hospital. Also among the victims was former NHL player and coach Brad McCrimmon, who had become the Yaroslavl head coach earlier that year. The crash occurred shortly after the jet took off in clear skies.
1 Steve Montador
Steve Montador made it to the Stanley Cup final in 2004, with the Calgary Flames, and remained in Calgary until he was traded in late 2005. At the beginning of the play-off run in 2004, he was not a regular on the team, but secured his place due to a number of injuries and his good performances on the ice. Playing a total of 571 games in the league, he also had stints in Florida, Anaheim, Boston, Buffalo and Chicago. One of his former coaches, Daryl Sutter, noted in an interview that Montador was still seeking to overcome the after-effects of his concussion, and that he was also dealing with depression. His teammates who spoke to the media after the news broke described him as one of the most popular players on the teams where he was active.