Nelson Leafs defenceman Andrew Gates is ending his hockey career because of concussions.
Gates was hit on the head during a game Sept. 20 in Kimberley, then two days later was hit twice more in a home game against Sicamous.
The 20 year old says he’s previously been diagnosed with six or seven hockey-related concussions, and will follow the advice of a doctor and his family to step away from the game for good in what would have been his final junior season.
“I think I’ve had too many concussions,” said Gates. “I really don’t think I should have played. But it’s something I’ll have to live with, and it’s something I’m OK living with.”
The Leafs acquired Gates in January ahead of the KIJHL trade deadline from the Melville Millionaires of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. He played 12 regular season games and had 13 playoff appearances, then returned to the team this season for four more games.
Gates said he suffered his first concussion at age 13 that resulted in a two-month headache.
“Ever since then it’s been increasingly easier and easier to get a concussion,” he said. “I’d get hit much less hard and I’d get headaches for just as long.”
Gates is the second Leaf to retire this year because of concussions. Logan Wullum announced his departure in January after suffering two concussions during games in December 2018.
Concerns about concussions, which are defined as traumatic brain injuries, and their possible link to the neurodegenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), have become reality for athletes in every sport since 2005 when Dr. Bennet Omalu found evidence of CTE in an NFL player.
The revelations about concussions have since changed the way hockey is viewed by fans and players.
CTE, which can only be tested for after a person dies, has been found in former players such as Derek Boogaard and Steve Montador. Last November the NHL reached an $18.9-million settlement with over 300 retired players who alleged the league never previously warned them of the dangers of head injuries.
Gates, a Chicago native, said he’s become well-versed in the science of concussions during his years in hockey. He credited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for what he describes as extensive testing during his career.
He continued to play, he said, because the concussions didn’t affect his on-ice performance.
“It’s one of those things you have to bury, because if it’s on your mind it’s going to really affect your life,” said Gates. “But at the same point, there’s a limit and my limit’s been reached. Everybody has a limit.”
Gates said he’ll return home this month and go back to school. He also plans to stay in hockey by coaching and eventually running his own training camps.
“I do have a life ahead of me,” he said. “It really, really sucks not being able to play, but at the same time I’m still going to find a way to be [connected] with the game.”