Daniel Carcillo mourns Steve Montador, wants more help for ex-NHL players

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Daniel Carcillo lost his best friend in hockey when Steve Montador, who played with him in the Chicago Blackhawks, was found dead in his home at age 35 back in February.

Like Carcillo, Montador had battled substance abuse. Like Carcillo, Montador suffered through the effects of concussions. But Monty had retired in 2013, while Carcillo played on with the Blackhawks. His life had direction, had meaning. He had a support system within the team and among his teammates.

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Montador, through this own admission, had none of that anymore. “He was trying so many things to reverse the symptoms and feel normal, and he couldn’t,” sad Carcillo.

The veteran winger said he filled 20 notebook pages at a hotel after Montador’s funeral, asking questions about how former players struggle to move on with life, and how so many are ignored by their former League, Players Association and peers.

He asked some former players if they knew what the NHLPA’s exit program was, and “not one knew what it was.”

So Carcillo decided to sit down with The Players Tribune to create an emotional five-minute video that honored Montador while trying to drum up awareness of the lack of help these players are receiving.

“Over the years I saw the deterioration of his mind, and he must have felt it too,” said Carcillo, noting in a heartbreaking anecdote that Montador would need several extra sets of keys for one lock in his home because he’d constantly forget where he placed them.

What makes the video powerful, beyond his own honesty and candor about depression, is the clarion call for NHL players to help their own. Not just through the mechanisms in place from the NHL and the NHLPA – which, frankly, don’t do enough – but by the players themselves trying to help each other post-retirement.

“People get in touch with each other, and try and create something that’s going to help athletes figure out what they want to do next in life,” he said.

During their playing days, teammates come and go. Maybe a few make a mark as friends, and you stay in touch, but basically your family is in that room. And then when you leave the game, you fall out of the family. That routine. And the friends you had still care, but aren’t as available as they once were. Soon you’re on the outside, looking in, and that support system that would offer a hug or the right words at the darkest hour is gone.

Carcillo’s right: There’s a support system there for retired players. It’s trying to figure out the proper way to get players help or keep them from spiraling into depression that’s the trick.

This is at the heart of those concussion lawsuits – or at least I hope it is, because the “we didn’t know the dangers” thing doesn’t fly with me. Players who leave the NHL feel they aren’t properly taken care of, either monetarily or through post-career programs. Some decided to put their names on a lawsuit to get our attention about their plight; Dan Carcillo shot a video.

In the end, it’s about support for these guys that sacrifice their health for success, competition and honor.

It’s always going to be a mutual understanding that, or at least it should be, that hockey is an inherently violent and dangerous sport, and the risks are apparent. But there should also be a mutual understanding that once your career is over, you shoudn’t just be tossed aside and forgotten about. 

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