Blake Geoffrion waited out the lockout in the AHL. In a November game, played before a sold-out crowd at the Bell Centre, the young center got caught watching the puck. Hit by Syracuse's J.P. Cote, Geoffrion went flying, his neck snapping back, his head striking Cote's skate. It was a clean hit, and it's still hard to watch today:
Bleeding, Geoffrion was somehow able to skate off the ice. But at the hospital, things turned bad. He went into convulsions, and doctors performed emergency surgery to remove pieces of his skull from his brain. A CAT scan showed swelling, and brain damage, and in the four months since, Geoffrion's symptoms haven't abated. Today he informed the Canadiens that he's retiring from the NHL.
"I love the game of hockey more than anything and this decision tears me up inside, but we are talking about my brain."
Geoffrion hit the scene with all the promise in the world. The 2010 Hobey Baker Award winner, he became the first ever fourth-generation NHLer when he was drafted in the second round by the Predators. Tennessee born-and-raised, Geoffrion was only the fourth NHL player to come from the American South. Last year saw a midseason trade to Montreal, where his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had all played.
And now he's done. When he met with media last month for the first time since the injury, Geoffrion seemed optimistic:
"I know in my heart I'll come back from this. I'll do whatever I have to do to come back to play the game. I miss the game dearly."
But his brain just didn't cooperate, and there's no one and nothing to blame. Cote's hit was immaculate, Geoffrion's injury a total freak thing. There are no greater lessons to be drawn from this, other than that hockey is a sport where the occasional career-ending injury is a mathematical inevitability.