When I first saw I had an email from Eric Doyle, I was excited to see what was new with him.
A player I had called games for when he played for the Swift Current Broncos for parts of four seasons, he was always a favorite of mine. But as I read the email, my thoughts turned from excitement to disappointment to sadness.
In the message Eric told me he was done playing hockey. On advice from Doctors, he was packing in his career because of concussions and post-concussion syndrome.
The Calgary native broke into the WHL with the Everett Silvertips in 2005-06 after being a 1st round bantam pick by the 'Tips in 2004. A blockbuster trade involving Dane Crowley and the late Jordan Mistelbacher sent him to Swift Current midway through the 2006-07 season.
Doyle played in the annual CHL/NHL Top Prospects game that season and the future looked bright for the 17 year-old.
He was passed over in the 2007 NHL draft.
After nearly four full seasons in Bronco colors, Doyle was shipped to the Portland Winterhawks partway through his over-age season.
This is his story:
It was the final two seasons of his WHL career and along with it came three concussions. He's never been the same... and just hasn't fully recovered with several symptoms still looming daily.
"Over my career I had five diagnosed concussions...and probably two more that weren't. The last three concussions all came pretty close together and were the worst by far," said Doyle.
The first of the three happened one night in Swift Current. The Kamloops Blazers were in town in November of '08 and Doyle took a blind-side hit from CJ Stretch in open ice. The hit drew a four-game suspension. Doyle returned after missing only a game.
"The Stretch hit really started it and i think i came back too early from that one because we were injury plagued on defense at the time," recalled Doyle.
Doyle found his way back into the line-up and finished the regular season strong.
I remember the "Get Eric Doyle on Team WHL" Campaign when Swift Current hosted one of the games on the ADT Canada-Russia series. Doyle never played in the game in Swift Current for but was an injury replacement the following night against the Russians in Prince Albert.
The Broncos then met the Medicine Hat Tigers in the first round of the playoffs in a seven-game war. A head shot by Tigers D Matt McCue resulted in another Doyle concussion. It was game four of the series and the playoffs were over for him. McCue was handed a one game suspension.
"The McCue hit ended my playoffs. I was able to come home and not worry about getting back in the lineup. It took me a while at the gym before i felt ready to train again so i was a step behind physically going into the next season."
The Broncos then dealt Doyle to Portland the next year to get down to the maximum of three twenty year-olds.
He says a concussion late in the season on a hit from Tri-City American F Todd Kennedy turned out to be another damaging blow. Again... he thinks he came back too soon.
"That hit was really bad and I put pressure on myself to get back for playoffs being a leader and an older guy on the team. I dont think i was fully ready to come back that soon."
After being eliminated from the playoffs in the 09-10 season with the Hawks, he then shifted focus to his pro career.
I went to Manchester camp in the AHL and felt fine. Then I went to the Ontario Reign in the Coast and was playing really well. Then took a hit to the head and got diagnosed with another concussion."
I was cleared to play again, and played a handful of games. Then one day in practice I was hit in the temple with a high stick and blacked out. I didn't think much of it because it was just a high stick and kept practicing. The next day during morning skate I felt really light headed and dizzy and almost passed out during the skate.
Doctor said as much as a flick can concuss me. That was early November and the last time I have been on skates...."
I asked Eric if he was ok talking about some of the symptoms he's still facing.
"Yeah i want to get it out there," he said.
"Maybe it can help some kids going through concussion problems. Dizzyness, Nausea, headaches, short term memory are the physical things that still linger everyday. I've been treated and seeing therapists for depression and social anxiety disorder. I also have severe sleep problems which the docs all said are concussion related for me. "
"There are more people then you would think that deal with this but are afraid to say anything. I think it would be good for other players to see this to know its ok to admit they have problems."
He's not blaming anyone for how it all went down though.
"I want to make it clear it wasn't the fault of any of the coaches or trainers that I came back early. it was my own decision, and if anything it shows the computer testing can be cheated."
He wanted me to share some advice as well."I encourage anyone that has had a concussion to be honest with themselves, the trainers and the coaches about how you're feeling. It's not worth it to come back early if your not ready.. I know first hand. Your life is more important then hockey."
"If you are away from home dealing with depression you need to find someone to talk to. I know a lot of teams have psychologists but also coaches and teammates are good to talk to as well. It takes a bigger man to admit you have a problem!"
I still love the game and cherished the times I had playing the game and the five years I spent in the WHL. I want to stay involved in the game some how and have always been interested in the scouting part of the game having gone through the bantam draft and the disappointments with the NHL draft."
Eric is now home in Calgary. He has five years of WHL paid education at his disposal through the WHL Scholarship Program... something he says he's "so grateful for". Doctors think school would be a bit too much for him to handle at this time so he's hoping to enroll after Christmas.
For now, he's working in his dad's sporting goods store, hoping someday to feel like his old self.
He says he's sought the appropriate help and is feeling happy about things, remaining positive for what lies ahead.