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Ex-NHLer had concussion-related drug addiction, won't let son play hockey as a result

theScore logo theScore 2018-06-13 Josh Wegman
a man wearing a helmet © Jeff Gross / Getty Images Sport / Getty

It's no secret that concussions are a major issue within the sport of hockey. And repeated head trauma has even caused former players, such as Wade Belak, Rick Rypien, Steve Montador, and Derek Boogaard to take their own lives.

Another former NHL enforcer, Nick Boynton, revealed in an article with The Players' Tribune on Wednesday that he's dealt with some of the same issues that were too much to handle for the aforementioned four players, whom Boynton describes as "brothers."

While Boynton claims he's feeling more hopeful and optimistic now than he has in a long time, he still won't let his 3-year-old son, who loves hockey, play the sport.

"I cannot, in good conscience, let him play the game of ice hockey until something changes and we start looking out for our players by taking the problems of head hits and concussions - and their potential impact on mental health - more seriously," he said.

"I've seen the damage that results from that stuff firsthand. I've lived it. And to say it's been a struggle for me would be putting it way too lightly."

Boynton chronicled one instance while playing for the Philadelphia Flyers, in which his concussion-caused drug addiction nearly led to his own death.

"At the tail end of my career, I really, genuinely thought that I was going to die one night during the season," he said. "It's hard to talk about, for sure, but ... I had stayed up late doing an obscene amount of coke and things just got out of control. After a while my heart felt like it was going to burst out of my chest. I couldn't get it to slow down. Nothing I did worked. It was probably the most scared I've ever been in my life."

Boynton said he needed to be at the rink a few hours later for the Flyers' morning skate and debated what to do: Go to the hospital and check in without anyone noticing or head to the arena and tell the trainer what had happened?

Earlier in Boynton's career, he had been traded less than a month after opening up about a painkiller addition to "some people with the team." He feared this could once again be the case if he opened up yet again.

"But I can tell you that, at the time, it (telling the team about cocaine use) was one of the hardest decisions I'd ever had to make," he said. "I agonized over it. Because I knew if I told the trainer, I was going to get in a ton of trouble."

Boynton, however, worked up the courage to tell the Flyers. Paul Holmgren, the team's general manager at the time, was completely supportive, sending him to rehab.

"And to this day, I honestly believe Paul saved my life back then," he said. "If I had been somewhere else, and they had just traded me away … I'd probably be dead."

Boynton played in 605 NHL games and even won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks, but says he would trade it all back in a "heartbeat" so he "wouldn't have had to experience all this pain and sorrow and anger and sadness."

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