Walsh forced to quit the game

John Browne jbrowne@thetelegram.com
Published on December 17, 2011

The toughest part, says Ryan Walsh, is watching his teammates, wanting to play, believing he can still contribute, but knowing, deep down, that it's all over.

The 33-year-old Conception Harbour native, who was skating this season with Clarenville Caribous of the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League, has officially retired from hockey because of post-concussion syndrome.

The former Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and Atlantic Universities Sport (AUS) all-star centreman made a comeback with the Southern Shore Breakers a few years ago after being out of hockey for some time.

After starring for three years in the QMJHL, Walsh went on to enjoy a stellar collegiate career with the UNB Varsity Reds. It was in his final season of junior hockey, a year split between the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles and Shawinigan Cataractes, that he suffered his first concussion.

Relatively symptom-free since then, Walsh began feeling evidence of a concussion after the first weekend of the 2011-12 NSHL campaign against the Conception Bay North CeeBee Stars, "and then I took a pretty good hit the second weekend against Mount Pearl.

"That's when I made up my mind not to play anymore," he said.

"The only tough thing is leaving a great group of guys and a really good team."

Walsh says he's feeling fine, but when he's tried skating, he gets a little dizzy at times.

"For the most part, I'm fairly healthy. I don't have any headaches, which I had when I was younger and had a few concussions. I'm fortunate. It's not that bad. And, at the end of the day, it's just a game," said Walsh, who had an impressive QMJHL career, scoring 119 goals in 193 games which also included a stop in Granby.

Despite those numbers, the five-foot-11, 180-pounder was not chosen in the NHL draft. However, he doesn't regret his decision to play four years with the Varsity Reds, where he put up 50 goals in 90 games.

He said he contemplated going to the Central league or ECHL, but that route wouldn't help him with the sort of experience he'd need after his hockey days were done.

Walsh still had the urge to play hockey when he returned to this province despite the physical setbacks.

He said when he was working out this past summer, he felt "pretty good," but added, "sprinting and running is different than taking bumps along the boards and battling with a guy in front of the net."

He said he can relate to what the NHLers, such as Sidney Crosby and scoring leader Claude Giroux are going through.

"Yeah, I have a fair idea," he said.

Walsh said he loves playing, but he doesn't feel cheated.

"Things happen on the ice and while it's unfortunate, it comes with the territory," he said. "I wish I was still playing, but I feel I've made the right decision instead of it being forced on me."