Nolan Patrick scored a goal in the Flyers home opener on Wednesday, and the fans rejoiced. Since there were no fans at the Wells Fargo Center, the rejoicing was done on social media. As I scrolled through those reactions, I noticed that many of those fans were amongst a crowd that had not been as kind to Nolan Patrick when he missed all of the 2019-20 Flyers season.
The Flyers had two players that missed the lion’s share of the 2019-20 season: Patrick, with migraine syndrome, and Oskar Lindblom. Lindblom, who was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, received overwhelming support from not only Philadelphia Flyers fans, but from the entire hockey community at large. Please do not misunderstand my intention here; I am not in any way, shape or form saying that Oskar did not deserve the support. My son and I both have two #OSKARSTRONG tees, I have written about his diagnosis and wept with joy when he returned to the team for the playoffs. He will most certainly win the Masterton Trophy this year, deservedly so.
Nolan Patrick, on the other hand, was the butt of many jokes on social media, including an unusually cruel April Fool’s Day joke that announced his retirement due to the migraines. Posts that told Patrick to man up, that he was a cry baby with a headache, while Oskar was fighting cancer, were all over social media. If you wrote one of those comments, and are reading this, I hope you understand how juvenile and cruel you are.
I often write on how I love hockey, and hockey players. The men that play the game I love are a unique breed, tough and stubborn almost to a fault. They play through pain that would keep most of those Twitter and Instagram trolls in bed for months. They are proud of their scars, and the battles they lost, prouder still of those battles won. Patrice Bergeron famously played with broken ribs; Derek Stephan with a broken jaw. My beloved Wayne Simmonds led the Flyers to the playoffs while playing through a torn pelvis, pulled groin, a grade 3 ankle sprain and a torn ligament in his hand. I adore that toughness, but at what cost to the player, to his future?
So many players have come forward to discuss the damage that playing hockey has caused. Dan Carcillo admitted to using drugs to fight post-concussion syndrome. Riley Cote now champions the use of CBD to assist with severe traumatic pain relief after an early retirement from hockey. Nick Boynton admitted to addiction as well, and wrote a piece for The Players Tribune titled “Everything’s Not O.K” that moved me deeply. Derek Boogaard committed suicide. Drugs and alcohol likely contributed to Ray Emery’s drowning. Mike Richards was arrested and charged with possession of narcotics. The charges were later dropped, but his career was over. The player that Captained the Flyers to a historic 0-3 series comeback against the Bruins on the way to a Stanley Cup Finals loss is now retired, living in quiet obscurity.
I suffer from migraines. Not often, but often enough that I keep a prescription on hand to try to and fight them off. The pain is best described as blinding. There is no working, no writing, no watching hockey or listening to music, all of my normal outlets. There is a dark room, and drugged sleep until the pain is gone. There is nausea, and vomiting and praying for the pain to end. The worst part of migraines is the not knowing; not knowing the why and the when, and with people thinking you “just have a headache”. Before the advent of the prescription medication that I now keep on hand, I have turned to drugs and alcohol to deal with the pain.
The best diagnosis I have ever received is that my migraines are the long lasting impact of a concussion suffered over twenty years ago. One concussion, twenty years ago. Imagine the ravages on the body of a player that is hit hard, every night. Over and over and over, for years, with only a few months of the off season to recover.
Imagine being a young, extremely talented hockey player, living your dream. Being drafted second, over all, into the NHL. Making the team out of camp, having the hopes and dreams of an extremely passionate fan base like Philadelphia on your not even old enough to buy a drink shoulders. A hit, an ILLEGAL hit at that, sends you spiraling into pain that you never thought possible. You watch your career, your dreams, begin to fade away, while doctors cannot do anything to help you. Time is the only hope for recovery. You watch as your team goes to the playoffs, and does not put you on the roster. And then imagine that some troll on Twitter tells you to man up, it’s just a headache. Hockey players are tough, the toughest in professional sports, but even hockey players are felled when the blow is that low.