Friday, May 5, 2017

Guillaume Latendresse Autograph Card

In keeping with yesterday's theme of concussions via Keith Primeau and Sidney Crosby, I chose to feature this card of Guillaume Latendresse's today:
That's the signed insert version (on-sticker, in blue sharpie) of card #128 from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Team Canada set and Signatures sub-set, showing him wearing his country's (bland, "home") uniform from either the 2005 U-18 Championships (silver medalist) or the 2006 World Juniors (gold). Of note, there's a "73" tagged at the ebnd of his signature, meaning he signed the sticker while he was with the Minnesota Wild.

It ties into Team Canada's win over the Czechs earlier today at the World Championships, but also of Tender's own history of concussions, which forced him to retire at the age of 26. Among revelations Latendresse has made in the last few days:
  1. Doctors even recommend he stop playing shinny hockey with his friends (I used to play in a summer league with him and other then-current NHLers and prospects, that may prove to be his most difficult task yet).
  2. When he hit his head playing Wii with his son last year, for an entire month, when a fellow RDS game analyst would go on for too long, Tender would lose track of the conversation and forget what he was supposed to be speaking about, on air.
  3. He barely hit his head when putting his daughter in the car a few days ago; he has been sleeping 12 hours a day since, in addition to napping for four hours at a time, with headaches, eye pain and motion sickness, just from a very minor bump.
  4. Stress, anxiety, pain, headaches and fatigue are regular occurrences, even three years into retirement.
  5. If he doesn't get at least 8 hours of sleep in a given night, he simply cannot operate the next day. I remember his social life extending past his bedtime and his being fresh as roses early the next morning. And he's still just 29, so it's not all just age doing the damage.
  6. He's less patient than he used to be, and gets angry at times as well.
  7. After six concussions in his last three seasons, doctors suggested he take a year or two away from the game; it's been nearly four years, and he still isn't feeling well.
  8. He spent a full year on antidepressants.
  9. He couldn't play without painkillers in his last few seasons. Tylenol was a minimum requirement; Advil, Motrin and Aleve were a regular part of his game-day diet.
  10. He couldn't talk to trainers, coaches or general managers, because it would be the end of his career; all were interconnected, working for the team, and he didn't want to build a reputation as a fragile player. Things were worse in Europe, where contracts are not guaranteed for "foreigners" who get injured.
  11. He has thought "If I get hit in center ice, that's probably it, I'll be a vegetable-state father of two" prior to and during games.
He also talks about how he now has to deal with his situation, cope and make the best of it, because his condition will never improve; this is as good as it gets for him going forward, the new normal.

Looking back now, he wishes he'd stopped a year or two earlier; however, he knew he was an NHL-level top-six forward and wanted to get back to that level, prove his doubters wrong and do what he had set out to do his entire life. This is, after all, the same player who scored 25 goals in 55 games with the Wild in 2009-10.

When you're in the action - or right outside of it, in his case - it's hard to gauge the repercussions in your old age. You hear of the extreme cases but figure you're an athlete, you're in better shape, you're tough, you'll be fine, as long as you avoid "the next one". Then the one after that. Then you find out we're all soft inside, and that the stories about failing health and difficulties living in the day-to-day were actually selling it short. That "pain" doesn't feel painful unless you're actually dealing with it in the moment. That head trauma isn't just an aching tooth you can pull out, or back pain that will resolve itself in weeks or months with pills and physiotherapy - it's in the area that controls your entire body, it ruins your day, and possibly even your life. It's fucking hell.

That's what Latendresse is living with right now. And Primeau. And Marc Savard. Years removed from whence those injuries occurred.

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