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Canada’s Chris Simon, former NHL enforcer, dead at 52 | CBC Sports

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The deaths of two former NHL players were announced Tuesday.

Chris Simon, once one of the hockey’s most feared enforcers, died at 52.

In a statement provided to ESPN, Simon’s family confirmed he died by suicide on Monday night.

“The family strongly believes and witnessed firsthand, that Chris struggled immensely from CTE which unfortunately resulted in his death,” read the statement provided by Simon’s former agent, Paul Theofanous. “We are grieving with the loss of our son, brother, father, partner, teammate and friend.

“The entire Wawa community is sharing in our grief. We will not be releasing any further details at this time and ask for privacy during this very difficult time. We appreciate everyone who shares in our tragic loss.”

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) can only be diagnosed after death.

Also Tuesday, it was announced former Belarusian hockey player Konstantin Koltsov, who was coaching in the Kontinental Hockey League, died in Florida, according to police. He was 42.

Simon, the six-foot-three, 232-pound forward from Wawa, Ont., amassed 1,824 penalty minutes in 782 games with the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche, Washington Capitals, Chicago, New York Rangers, Calgary Flames, New York Islanders and Minnesota Wild.

Possible CTE connection

CTE is associated with repeated traumatic brain injuries, including concussions and repeated headshots. Deaths by suicide and drug overdose are common among athletes in CTE cases. The NHL has repeatedly disputed any links between hockey and CTE.

A study of former NHLers published last year showed enforcers lived significantly shorter lives than their peers.

Researchers at New York’s Columbia University came to that conclusion after analyzing data from 6,039 players from 1967 through the spring of 2022.

The study found enforcers died on average a decade younger than comparable peers drafted at the same rank, were of similar height and weight, and played the same position.

The researchers did not find more deaths among the NHL enforcers than in the control group.

“However, being an enforcer was associated with dying approximately 10 years earlier and more frequently of suicide and drug overdose than matched controls,” the study read. “Re-emphasis on player safety and improving quality of life after a hockey career should renew discussion to make fighting a game misconduct penalty in the NHL.”

Simon is the latest former NHL tough guy to die at a young age, joining the likes of Bob Probert, Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak and Rick Rypien.

The differences in causes of death between the enforcers and their fellow players was striking, the 2023 study found.

Two neurodegenerative disorder deaths, two drug overdoses, three suicides and four vehicular crashes were attributed to the 331 players identified as enforcer/fighters, compared to just one car crash death among the age-matched control group.

 

Commenting on Wednesday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called Simon’s death “tragic” but refrained from directly addressing the family’s charges linking it to CTE.

“We extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends,” Bettman said. “On all these matters we wait to see what the medical experts tell us.

“Having said that, I think it’s well documented all the progress that we’ve made over the last couple of decades to make the game as safe as possible.”

Once a staple of NHL games, fighting has seen a steep decline as the sport has become faster and more skilled — but it’s certainly not gone, with fisticuffs coming roughly every four or five games.

The league has seen some big tilts this season, most notably involving hulking six-foot-seven New York Rangers rookie Matt Rempe, who dropped the gloves four times in his first seven contests.

‘Heart of gold’

The NHLPA said in an email Tuesday confirming Simon’s death that “his children and family are grieving the sudden loss of their father, son, brother, friend and teammate.”

Ted Nolan, who coached and mentored Simon with the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, called it a “very tough day.”

“If I was starting a team, Chris would be my first pick,” Nolan, who also coached Simon in the NHL with the Islanders, said in a text message. “Size, skill, talent, and above all, a heart of gold.”

Simon also wasn’t without controversy.

The NHL suspended him eight times during his career for a total of 65 games. He was hit with a 25-game ban when he was with the Islanders for a cross-check to the face of Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg in March 2007.

Simon was then forced to sit 30 games for stomping on the leg of Pittsburgh Penguins winger Jarkko Ruutu in December of the same year.

Simon, who was drafted in the second round by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1990 and shipped to Quebec as part of the Eric Lindros trade, won the Stanley Cup with Colorado in 1996 before making the final with Washington in 1998 and Calgary in 2004.

Known for his fists in an era when staged fights and intimidation were big parts of NHL life, he could also put the puck in the net.

Simon, who is Anishinaabe and a member of Wikwemikong First Nation with ties to the Michipicoten First Nation, registered 144 goals, including a career-high 29 with Washington in 1999-00, to go along with 161 assists for 305 points.

He added 10 goals, 17 points and 191 penalty minutes in 75 playoff contests.

The NHL mentioned his ferocity as a player in a statement Tuesday evening.

“The National Hockey League mourns the passing of Chris Simon, who played in more than 800 NHL games over 15 seasons. A fierce competitor and teammate, Simon won the Stanley Cup with Colorado in 1996 and reached the 1998 Stanley Cup final with Washington as well as the 2004 Stanley Cup final with Calgary,” the statement read.

“Our sincere condolences go out to his family, friends and former teammates.”

Simon played parts of five seasons in the Russian-based KHL after his final NHL stop with Minnesota in 2007-08.

Ex-teammates took to X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, as news of his death spread Tuesday.

“An intimidating guy on the ice … hell of a player as well,” posted Mike Commodore, who played with Simon in Calgary. “He couldn’t have been nicer to me. RIP Chris. You will be missed.”

Ex-Penguin Koltsov dead at 42

Koltsov’s death was confirmed by Miami-Dade Police detective Argemis Colome in a statement sent to The Associated Press. Police said the death was an apparent suicide and no foul play was suspected.

Koltsov served as an assistant coach for Salavat Yulaev Ufa the past two seasons. He also was an assistant on staff for the Belarusian men’s national team.

National team coach Dmitry Baskov called Koltsov’s death “an irreparable loss.”

“Konstantin was one of the undisputable leaders of our team, a talented progressive coach, a bright player,” Baskov said in a statement. “He was an example of sturdiness, hard work, dedication and an idol for many Belarusian boys and his colleagues. It’s hard and unfair when such people leave so early.”

Koltsov played in 144 NHL games for the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2003-06 after being selected in the first round of the 1999 draft, putting up 12 goals and 26 assists. The Penguins in a statement extended condolences to Koltsov’s family and friends.

Koltsov had been dating second-ranked women’s tennis player Aryna Sabalenka, who was scheduled to play in the Miami Open tournament that began Tuesday. A spokesperson for the Miami Open said late Tuesday afternoon that Sabalenka had not withdrawn from the event.

As one of the 32 seeded players in the women’s bracket, Sabalenka received a first-round bye. She is scheduled to make her initial appearance in the 2024 edition of the tournament in the second round Thursday, when she would face Paula Badosa, who beat two-time major champion Simona Halep on Tuesday.

Messages sent to Sabalenka’s publicist were not immediately returned.

Sabalenka is a 25-year-old also from Belarus who won the Australian Open in January for her second consecutive title at Melbourne Park. She was featured during the Netflix docuseries “Break Point,” speaking emotionally about the death of her father when he was in his early 40s.

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