At the age of just 25, former Calgary Flames first round draft pick Kris Chucko is done with professional hockey – at least the on ice portion.
That’s right. Chucko has had enough.
He retired last week from hockey citing two major concussions in less than a calendar year as the reason. His career, some might argue, never reached its full potential after the Flames took him 24th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
He suited up for all of two NHL games and was unable to record a point. He showed signs that perhaps he was nearing a breakthrough in his career in 2008/09 when he had 51 points in 74 games with the former Quad City Flames, now the Abbotsford Heat. But it never materialized. After scoring a hat trick in the Heat’s inaugural game – a 6-5 overtime loss – Chucko struggled to find consistent ground and was eventually sidelined for 39 games with his first major concussion.
After sitting out the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs, Chucko returned to the lineup for the Heat’s sophomore campaign, but was felled with another blow to the head in just the second game.
That was it.
It ended, oddly enough thanks to a collision with his own teammate, Bryan Cameron.
At the time, it was hard to fathom that Chucko’s career would come to a screeching halt right there. But it did, albeit more than a full year later and after much soul searching.
Context of how it all happened now behind us, the thesis of this piece is not to harp on how tragic it is that a 25-year-old with so much talent never made it because of concussions, although that last part is certainly noteworthy.
But instead, while Chucko’s one career, his passion and love, has come to an end all too soon, he is moving on to pursue an education. He’s back at the University of Minnesota where he will finish off his degree in business marketing. The choice he made as a teenager playing for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in the B.C. Hockey League to go to college as opposed to jumping on the fast track through major junior hockey and onto the professional ranks turned out to be perhaps the best of his life.
That may sound like an understatement, especially for someone who isn’t even 30 yet. At least now has something to fall back on. Others are not so lucky.
And it’s occurrences like this that underline the importance of a post-secondary education. The odds of young hockey players making a multi-million dollar career out of skating in the NHL are already small enough. Factor in a colossal amount of luck, and players these days can be fortunate to play into their late 30s.
But those are the minority. Today’s game is the best it’s ever been, but it’s also at a point where it’s the most dangerous. Players today are bigger, faster and stronger. And there is no guarantee, no matter who you are, of a lengthy career in this game anymore.
Hence the importance of an education, so that if dreams of playing in the NHL, the Stanley Cup, the millions of dollars and the fame are dashed without warning, at least those unlucky ones will have a back-up plan, something that gives them a chance to contribute to society and less of a chance to fall into pits of depression.
Kris Chucko’s career ended way too soon. No one can argue that. But his newfound pursuit for an education doesn’t mean his livelihood has to follow a similar path.