One of modern hockey’s most inspiring stories turned tragic today.
Peel Regional police are reporting that former NHL defenseman Steve Montador has died in his home. He was 35-years-old.
Montador became a permanent fixture in Calgary Flames lore during the 2003-04 Stanley cup run. The undrafted, journeyman defender was pressed into action due to a defense corps that was decimated by injuries. Like the team itself during that incredible run, Montador exceeded all expectations, which helped solidify him as an everyday NHL defender for the next decade.
His most iconic moment came in overtime versus the San Jose Sharks in game 1 of the third round:
“He’s the unlikeliest scoring hero…”
The beaver tail call for the puck. A celebration that is a mix of excitement and disbelief. It was evident you were watching a man playing out his boyhood dreams.
It’s this image that likely sticks for most Flames fans who remember him.
There aren’t a lot of details available about Montador’s passing this morning, but it’s known he was battling with depression; the side effects of a major concussion that ended his NHL career and his struggle to re-adjust to life outside of hockey.
Both are significant concerns for former NHLers. As is evident by the latest class action lawsuit launched by NHL alumni, it’s not just fighters who face health and quality of life issues due to multiple blows to the head.
Less well known is the difficulty a lot of pro athletes have adjusting to life outside of the spotlight. Those players who aren’t immediately offered front office or media jobs often find themselves lost and shiftless, without a primary source of income, purpose and identity suddenly gone without recourse. Former NHL goalie Corey Hirsch talked frankly about his post-career struggles recently:
“As players, people come to us,” Hirsch said. “We don’t have to go to them. But guess what? Once it ends, unless you’re Gordie Howe or Wayne Gretzky, nobody is looking for you anymore.”
This issue is especially insidious because millionaire athletes aren’t typically sympathetic figures. Erstwhile stars going broke after years of collecting seven figure pay checks are objects of scorn, derision or, at best, pity, rather than empathy.
We don’t know whether Montador’s depression played a role in his tragic and premature death, but there’s no doubt he paid a heavy price for the time he spent in the league.
RIP Steve. And thanks for the memories.