This hockey roster doesn't contain any superstars, but it's the saddest roster you're ever likely to read.
The top line - Roman Lyashenko. Tom Cavanagh. Trevor Ettinger. Rick Rypien, Wade Belak, Todd Ewen
The second - Derek Boogaard, Steve Montador...and now, Marek Svatos.
All of these players died far too young. All of them were NHL prospects or players. The top line are all players who either were or had been in NHL systems who are believed to have taken their own lives. The second group are players in the NHL who have died shortly after leaving the game from either medicinal overdoses, or were found to be suffering from conditions directly related to their playing of the game.
The roster continues, though, with the players who are still with us, but carrying the scars of a hockey career that will forever affect their quality of life. Players like Marc Savard, who battles to this day with the lifelong after-effects of several collisions that, little by little, have added up to permanently change the way his brain functions...a story that was told brilliantly by PPP's Scott Wheeler in a post on this site in August Players like former Washington Capital enforcer Stephen Peat, whose hockey career has now, in the words of his family, left him with mental scars that make him "a danger to himself". Or, more recently still, there are the stories told by players like Dan Carcillo of depression, hopelessness and battles with inner demons.
Hockey is not a sport anybody goes into expecting an easy, trouble-free time. It's a fast, physical game, capable of moments of great viciousness and brutality but also great beauty. It is this dual nature, the juxtaposition of light and dark, which often makes it such a compelling spectator sport.
But it is not often the noble, proud combat between athletes following some glorious unwritten code handed down through the decades, with justice upheld by modern-day knights in shining armour who ceremonially throw down the gauntlets to avenge a wrong with fists instead for swords and a song in their hearts. Not the glorious spirited competition for men (and only men) that some in the game still delight in portraying it as.
Anyone who has played hockey at any level, or watched it, knows that a typical hockey game is a maelstrom of whirling blades and sticks, of sweat and blood and flying limbs. It is a place where pain, blood, and danger are constant companions just like joy and beauty. It's a game where many careers are like the vision of Thomas Hobbes of all human life in Leviathan: "nasty, brutish, and short".
Hockey is a game that breaks people. It's a massive mangle that chews players up and spits them out the other side crumpled and used up.
You would think that such an environment would foster an awareness of the need for support, especially in a game where fans and players love to talk of "commitment" or "togetherness" as key.
However, the opposite is true. Hockey is a game infected by a refusal to even consider the long-term consequences of the cumulative toll it takes on a human body. More than this, it's still a game that actively discourages admitting that there is a toll taken at all - an attitude that only increases as the level gets higher, the hits get harder and the danger of long-term damage increases.
The incredible untruth and blatant disregard for safety, either of oneself or others, encapsulated in phrases like "play through it" or "take one for the team" or, worst of all in this modern age "hockey is a man's game" is the kind of bullshit thinking that leads to players hiding injuries that would leave many turned away from any other workplace, refusing to admit to weakness of any kind for fear of being mocked, and driving themselves to levels no human body can reasonably be expected to stand in the pursuit of what is, after all, a game.
At its extreme, hockey, or more specifically the attitude embedded in it, kills people. It is, to some degree, responsible for the situation of every single of the names mentioned earlier in this post.
It is the constant need to "sacrifice" and "man up" that contributed to Derek Boogaard seeking to treat his broken, battered body in ways that medical science was never designed to be used. It is the fear of not reaching the levels of "playing through it" and the pressure of being able to live up the image (an image, let's not forget, created and perpetuated by those who often never had to face the burden of actually upholding it) of someone capable of playing "a man's game" in the eyes of others that helped contribute to the depression and mental health issues that eventually played a major part in the deaths of all of the players mentioned above.
And it is macho, boneheaded bullshit like Pat Maroon reacting to a young star being taken out of the game for his own safety by asking "why - this stuff happens. It's a MAN'S GAME (capitals for emphasis)" and such a view being widely reported and left unchallenged - even supported - by many in influential positions that continues to make hockey a sport that is dangerous to all who take part in it.
More dangerously, it's a sport that has somehow managed to pull a Keyser Soze...the greatest trick it's pulled is in convincing those being damaged by it that that damage doesn't exist - that CTE can't happen to them. That the chronic pain can't happen to them. That they're not one misplaced elbow or unlucky collision away from a life-changing brain injury. You only have to look at the tweets from former and current players and journalists and reactions like those of Pat Maroon to see that.
Hockey is a sport that doesn't do enough to help people within it. It's a sport that doesn't do enough to support its players. Its a sport with a culture that, despite efforts and claims to the contrary, actively mitigates against that support being given. And it's a sport that refuses to accept any of this.
As a result of this, it's a sport that has a worrying mortality rate. A sport that may well have indirectly claimed Marek Svatos as its latest victim.
More importantly still, the evidence that shows that hockey is doing this is there for all to see. It's there in the fact that journalists and talking heads will sadly reflect on the "tragedy" of players like Rypien and Boogaard before lionising the latest big hit or "great heart" of a player playing with career threatening injury.
But most visibly of all, It's there in the damaged human beings still with us. Damaged humans with names like Savard, and Peat. Players who gave their all for the game, and broke their bodies and minds for a lie, are now suffering the consequences while the rest of hockey simultaneously mourns them and tries to forget what's caused their pain in the first place.
Hockey culture continues to betray them. It continues to contribute to players suffering mental illness, and pain, and even dying. Every tweet, every article praising "old-time hockey culture", every article about a player's "grit" and "heart", every Twitter storm lionising a player playing through injury willingly and knowingly supports a culture that is damaging players irrepairably.
And until it accepts that much of it is built on a lie, hockey culture and everyone supporting it will continue betraying those who play the game.