Albin Blomqvist is just 20 years old, but his hockey days are over due to a history of concussions. Blomqvist, who played for Lethbridge in the Western League alongside his brother Axel (a Winnipeg Jets prospect), is now back in Sweden and has penned an article for Hockeysverige.se. It's a tough read and brings up a lot of important issues for the hockey world.
Translated into English, Blomqvist rails against a culture that pushes dreams more than reality. With his hockey career over and no chance at playing in the NHL, the defenseman has also come to the realization that his singular focus and lack of education may not have been the best idea.
"My career was over the moment I got the last concussion in Canada," he wrote. "I had nothing to lean against either. Hockey had always been a top priority and I put all my cards into the game of the NHL."
He of course accepts some responsibility for his fate, but also claims that as a dutiful teammate, he always did what his coaches asked of him (Blomqvist sustained concussions in Sweden before he came over, too). At 6-foot-3, 202 pounds, Blomqvist could play physical and did not shy away from fights as a WHL rookie in 2011-12, but a quick perusal of his fight log reveals that the Swedish teen was not very good at protecting himself: Even in the one bout where he could be declared the winner, he hits his helmeted head on the ice. In other fights, he gets tagged numerous times.
But the fall-out of Blomqvist's concussions reveals the saddest details. The youngster began to drink out of despair and lost 30 pounds in a month. Part of his anger now stems from the fact that he suffered alone.
"Not a single person in the hockey bubble stretched out his hand and asked me if anything was wrong," he wrote. "The only people around me were focused on how and when this player would take to the ice again. The leaders in question are too cowardly to care about their players as people. I gave them all they wanted of me on the ice. But it cost me my dream."
Blomqvist is clearly disappointed with the establishment in his letter and claims that he often saw injured players – including those with head injuries – tossed right back out on the ice for another shift. He writes that he no longer trusts the hockey world, but still loves to cheer on his four brothers, all of whom still play. And of course he fears for their safety.
Would Blomqvist ever have made it to the NHL? Probably not, but thanks to injuries throughout his teen years, perhaps we never got an accurate picture of what he could have been. It's always sad when a player so young has to hang up his skates for the final time and clearly Blomqvist is working through that pain. Hockey has tried to improve how it handles concussions and other serious injuries, but according to Blomqvist, there's a long way to go.
He recognizes in his piece that the sport at high levels is a business and he's right. While that takes a lot of the romance out of the game, perhaps it's better for teenagers to know that sooner than later.