On Kevin Stevens

So I’m sad today. The Boston Globe reported this morning that former NHLer Kevin Stevens is being held on federal drug charges and will be arraigned Tuesday in Massachusetts.  He’s charged along with another man with conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute oxycodone, and is in federal detention.

Kevin Stevens was one of the players on the Pittsburgh Penguins whom I grew up watching. He was the gregarious Bostonian who probably threw the best parties of anyone on your block or in your college dorm, or the guy who lived next door to you and always offered you a beer after a hot afternoon of mowing the lawn and kept you laughing into the night … and a super-talented hockey player – a two-time Stanley Cup winner, a U.S. Olympian, an NHL All-Star. kevinstevens

I’m not sad because of Kevin Stevens’ legal troubles – I’m sad after considering what brought it to this point, that Kevin Stevens probably could never get control of himself. I’m sad because I will never forget his arrest in 2000 for soliciting a prostitute and possessing drug paraphernalia – crack cocaine was found on the scene.

I’m sad because I will never forget when I met him in 2009 while covering the American Hockey League, I remember him as engaging and super-funny, and I appreciated that whenever he saw me, he took the time to talk to me. But I also remember thinking, “don’t kid yourself, this guy has a lot of problems.”

And I think back to the moment it all likely changed for Kevin Stevens, when he was injured in the 1993 playoffs – when his head hit the ice after a check on New York Islander Rich Pilon, and when he came up, half of his face was caved in. He needed major reconstructive surgery, had five metal plates put in his face and had bone fragments removed.

I put that injury to Stevens up there in gruesomeness – and potential psychological after-effects – with the injury Clint Malarchuk sustained in 1989, when his neck was sliced open by a skate blade.

Clint Malarchuk admits he never got the psychological help he needed – likely to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. And with that in mind, it begs a question: Did Kevin Stevens ever get the help he needed after that injury, or did he take the “I’ll be fine” attitude?

Or, in that era of the NHL, the early 1990s, was the help even there?

Earlier this year, CTV’s Rick Westhead did a great, insightful, saddening piece on the long-term effects of concussions on retired NHL players – in particular, Mike Peluso.

From the CTV piece:

Did team doctors put the financial interests of their employers ahead of the health concerns of players? And did NHL executives put their collective heads in the sand when it came to learning more about the dangers of repeated head trauma, and about possible rule changes that might have better protected players, even if it meant popular tough guys were sidelined longer between fights?

Watching it made me consider the era of the NHL that I grew up watching, a 10-year span that began in 1988, and what players went through – and how they were (or weren’t) helped afterwards. They were almost chattel, commodities that could be bought and traded and dumped.

And because so many of them loved the game, or needed to pay bills, they kept going.

And now, we’re starting to see the long-term effects these injuries had on the players. More importantly, on the people these players had to be once they stepped off the ice for good. It’s hard to say for certain whether or not Kevin Stevens’ latest legal issue is a result of that, but it’s not hard to wonder if it contributed to it.

I hope Kevin Stevens gets the help he needs.

An appreciation of Craig Adams

Craig Adams retired from hockey earlier this week, and released a statement via the NHLPA announcing his departure.

You never saw his name in the box scores or in the headlines, but it’s etched twice on the Stanley Cup. Because Craig Adams was one of the grinders. And probably one of the more unique guys in hockey.

He was born in Brunei.

He was the last-ever draft pick for the Hartford Whalers before the team moved to North Carolina, a ninth-round pick. There aren’t even nine rounds in the NHL Entry Draft anymore.

He was a waiver pickup from the Chicago Blackhawks, three months before the Penguins won the 2009 Stanley Cup.

He was an NHLPA player rep – which, in my pro-union household, counts for something.

He is a smart guy. He went to Harvard.

craigadamsreads

(I just thought that photo was funny.)

Craig Adams left hockey with some unspectacular numbers. But, as I sometimes said during Penguins games:

“Every time Craig Adams scores, an angel gets its wings.”

So, 62 angels got their wings in the course of Craig Adams’ 14 seasons in the NHL.

How could this have been overlooked?

Yesterday it was revealed that Sidney Crosby’s brain wasn’t just injured – the Pittsburgh Penguins captain had also sustained fractures of the C1 and C2 vertebrae.

Translation: the top two bones in his spinal column were broken.

c/o your-neurologist.com

Which left everyone asking last night – on the eve of the NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa – “how did this happen? Or, better yet, how was this overlooked?”

Because doctors and medical staff may have been so focused on treating one thing – concussions and their lingering symptoms, which had sidelined Crosby for all but a handful of games in a span of more than 55 weeks – that something else that potentially contributed to the problem may have been largely ignored.

Of course, now the world waits for Crosby’s medical team and the Penguins’ medical team to elaborate on this. Or spin it. But that’s another story.

What got us to this point isn’t just a commentary on Sidney Crosby’s health. It’s a reflection of what is happening in medicine and in the treatment of patients right now. Our medical system – its doctors, its insurers, its institutions, its ethics – is under attack and under scrutiny. Who is feeling the trickle-down effect of this? Patients.

I was fortunate to see my husband go through a day-long battery of hospital tests after a recent fainting spell … and a litany of follow-up care to figure out what exactly the problem was. The treatement wasn’t so much efficient as it was thorough.

Yet twice in the past year I’ve had friends who have gone through medical problems, whose symptoms have been misdiagnosed by doctors and re-diagnosed by specialists, resulting in further problems and headaches, literally and figuratively.

In the haste to isolate one problem, another problem was ignored. A problem that could be far more serious. Which brings up the holistic aspect of medicine, one that comes with a certain level of institutional ignorance. When I say “holistic,” I mean it not in the sense of herbs and organic goodness and Whole Foods but in the all encompassing sense: look at the whole and not just the parts.

Do we attribute isolating one medical problem instead of looking at everything to the fact that doctors may be overwhelmed? Do we attribute the lack of this to rising health care costs? To HMOs that hamstring its clients? To the politics that surround medicine?

Or, in a sense, to ignorance?

How many of you have gone to the doctor for one problem, had it diagnosed as one issue … but then a whole new crop of problems arise? Or the problem persists, despite diagnosis, analysis and treatment?

Why has it happened? Is it cultural? We live in a quick-fix society. We’ve got too many other things to do besides worrying about a twisted ankle or a splitting headache, so we seek a form of rapid relief. Some are more willing to oblige than to say, “hey, look, we might want to examine everything instead of just what your one issue is.” Or maybe we demand too much of our doctors. Even I’ll admit that I begged a doctor to give me antibiotics when I couldn’t shake a sinus infection before a weekend of work.

But if you don’t feel like something is right, ask for accountability from your doctor or medical professional. Ask him or her if there’s something else that could be affecting you. Do some research on what’s bothering you and ask the doctor, could it be this? What do you think? Seek a second opinion. Or a third.

Don’t have it get worse and ask yourself, “how could this have been overlooked?”

On Jagr-gate, or why my inner teenager is so conflicted

My father offered me some unsolicited advice in the days before I left to go to college in Pittsburgh:

“If you’re going to date anyone, make sure it’s Jaromir Jagr.”

Truthfully, I had no chance.

But the exchange – now more than 15 years old – was indicative of where Jagr, then a cult hero/NHL All-Star/rock star/hairstyle-challenged/teenage dream stood in the eyes of Pittsburgh sports fans – and of hopeful father-in-laws.

Hence, Jagrmania. Twenty years ago, girls loved Jaromir Jagr. Mothers hated him. Guys wanted to be like him, probably because they envied him. Kit Kat candy bars, Ed Belfour and traffic cops were afraid of him.

But did Pittsburgh fans ever imagine this day?

Jagr returns to Pittsburgh tonight – as a Philadelphia Flyer.

As a hockey fan, do you appreciate what Jagr has accomplished during his time in the game?

As a member of a capitalist society, do you commend Jagr for taking the best paycheck in exchange for the best opportunity to showcase his hockey wares?

As a Penguins fan, are you supposed to hate Jagr for such an act of treason? For choosing Philadelphia over Pittsburgh?

It creates some cognitive dissonance. Especially considering that most of my teenage years were spent watching Jagr work his on-ice (and sometimes off-ice) magic with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Yes, I was one of those big-haired screaming teenage girls in the stands at the Civic Arena in the early 1990s. Those were the halcyon days …

These days, I don’t know if I’d be screaming for Jagr. Or if I’d be screaming at him. Because as I look back at his time with the Penguins, and then courting the Penguins, I’m conflicted. So is my inner teenager. It’s like coming to terms with the old boyfriend who jilted you, then who unexpectedly sent you a friend request on Facebook 15 years later, when you thought he’d been thoroughly purged from your memory. But he wasn’t. And his wife was kind of hot.

*sigh*

Jagrmania, it was.

In 1990, the Penguins drafted Jagr out of the Czech Republic. He went from an 18-year-old who spoke little to no English in his first season to a perennial All-Star, a Stanley Cup champion and a western Pennsylvania heartthrob. Oh, and if you rearranged the letters of his first name, it spelled “MARIO JR.” Some believed he was poised to be the franchise after Mario Lemieux’s premature retirement in 1997.

Yes, that's my 1990-1991 Penguins media guide.

But it didn’t work out that way, as he was shipped off to Washington in the summer of 2001, only a few months after the infamous “dying alive” statement.

Still, the love reappeared, nearly nine years later. Jagrmania was back in full tilt in February of 2010 when Jagr returned to North America with the Czech hockey team for the Winter Olympics. Then, it was revived this summer when Jagr openly expressed interest in returning to the NHL after playing three seasons with Avangard Omsk of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. It seemed like all of hockey was on watch after Jagr announced his intentions to come back to North America.

Seen in Toronto ...

One of those destinations? Pittsburgh.

And Penguins fans, despite the franchise’s embarrassment of riches, were ready to welcome Jagr back, despite the thorny parting of ways nearly 10 years ago. The thought of Jagr returning to Pittsburgh didn’t just bring about Jagrmania. It brought about full-tilt Jagr Madness.

He thought about Detroit. Considered Montreal. Played the dating game with Pittsburgh … and Jagr decided to go to Philadelphia. Was this right? Was this fair? Was this karma?

***

Jagr returns to Pittsburgh tonight for the first time since the 2007-2008 playoffs, and he met with the media this morning in Pittsburgh, prior to tonight’s Flyers-Penguins game at CONSOL Energy Center.

A sampling of what he said:

From the Philadelphia Inquirer (and when you watch this video, make sure the “Rocky” song is playing in the background):

Jaromir Jagr was not himself Wednesday. The usually gregarious Flyers winger, who won five scoring titles with the Penguins, was mostly agitated during a news conference. He admitted on Thursday that he was upset with how the Pittsburgh media has portrayed him.

“Maybe I overreacted. I’m just not happy with some of the media here,” he said after Thursday’s morning skate. “They make up everything. That was the problem. That’s when they start everything, and it’s tough to control.

“It’s bothered me for a long time, and I was a little bit mad about it yesterday,” he added. “It’s not going to help me, but at least” he relieved his frustration.

Among the things that apparently bothered Jagr were reports that he had agreed to return to Pittsburgh before signing with the Flyers.

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Q: Did the Penguins say anything to you or [your agent] Petr Svoboda when they made the offer about what kind of role you would play?

A: Nobody will tell you how they want to use you. That’s one thing. But you can sometimes read between the lines. I’ve got nothing against [Penguins winger Tyler] Kennedy [who was a restricted free agent last summer] or guys like that, but if somebody tells you, ‘Well, we have to wait for Kennedy,’ and he was playing on the third line, well, where am I going to play if you wait for Kennedy before you sign me? I was reading between the lines. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m right. Nobody’s going to know. Bottom line, I am here, you guys are over there. I’m going to come to the game. Everybody’s going to hate me. And I still have to play. OK? Good luck to everybody. See you next time.

“Hate” is a very strong word. Maybe “pariah” is more fitting. Or “persona non grata.”

Despite the money, the fame, the supposed hate … is there some small part of Jaromir Jagr that’s a bit conflicted about tonight?

If so, my inner teenager, swathed in a mustard yellow-and-black jersey, can relate.