Forty-eight seconds. Forty-eight seconds of lying motionless on the ice after suffering a brutal hit in Game 6 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final – and Paul Kariya remembers none of it. Not the hit, the goal he scored afterwards, not Game 7, not even the following few days after the conclusion of the season. This past Wednesday, TSN reporter Michael Farber got a rare sit down with the former Anaheim Ducks star, and the results are an emotional and dark story of what really happened after that fateful hit.
After Years of Obscurity, Paul Kariya Breaks His Silence
Game 6: The Hit
Let’s rewind to the day of the hit. On June 7, 2003 the Anaheim Ducks squared off against the New Jersey Devils in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Devils led the series three games to two, and the then Mighty Ducks needed to win to force Game 7 in New Jersey. The Ducks were leading the Devils 3-1, with just over 13 minutes to play in the second period, when Kariya skated up ice and passed the puck off to a teammate. Following the play Devils Scott Stevens layed a hard and brutal hit into Kariya, who fell to the ice flat on his back, motionless. After several moments, Kariya got up and made his way to the dressing room. Four and a half minutes of game-play later, Kariya returned. With about two minutes remaining in the second period, Kariya wheeled up ice and let go a slap shot. He scored, and we received the ever so famous “Off the floor, on the board!” call.
The Ducks won the game 5-2 and forced Game 7, but would fall to the Devils in New Jersey by a score of 3-0 and would lose the Finals by a score of four games to three. That off-season, Kariya became an unrestricted free agent and signed with the Colorado Avalanche. From here, Kariya would spend only a season with the Avs before heading to the Nashville Predators in 2004-05, a season cut short not only by the lockout, but by nagging injuries for Kariya. In 2007, Kariya signed a three year deal with the St. Louis Blues and remained in St. Louis until 2010, where he then announced he would sit out the 2010-11 National Hockey League season with post-concussion syndrome. On June 29, 2011, Paul Kariya announced his retirement from the NHL and hockey. He suffered a total of six concussions as well as other multiple injuries in his groin, thigh, and ankles. Kariya, a once promising young star and stellar player, was done.
In his 15 year career, Kariya skated in a total of 989 NHL games, scoring 402 goals, tallying 587 assists for a total of 989 points. He was a fourth overall draft pick, the Ducks’ first ever franchise selection in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. He was a Silver Medal winner as part of Team Canada at the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics and a Gold Medalist at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. He won a Gold Medal (1994 Italy) and a Silver Medal (1996 Austria) as a member of Team Canada in the World Championships. In 1995, Kariya was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team. He was a First Team All-Star in 1996, ’97, and ’99, a Second Team All-Star in 2000, ’03, and won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (Most sportsmanlike player) in both 1996 and ’97. He also had one 50-plus goal season (1995-96) and two 100-plus point seasons (1995-96 and 1998-99).
But the saddest thing of all was how Kariya removed himself from the hockey community, staying out of the spotlight for six years. He states his brain function dropped 60% after his career, and in another test, one for his age group, he tested in the 25th percentile. In the interview with Farber, Kariya explained, “At the end of my career when I was tested by Dr. Lovell who created the IMPACT testing, I dropped over 60%. When I was tested by another doctor, just a general test for my general age group, I was testing in the 25th percentile. I was a decent student. I got into Harvard. I’m not a 25% student. There was significant damage.” It is terrible to see how such a bright young star could suffer so badly at the hands of a game he loved dearly. But perhaps the most emotional thing of all? Kariya said he hasn’t put his gear on since he last played in 2010 in St. Louis.
So where is Kariya today? He lives off the shore in California, and has taken up surfing, a hobby which he finds relaxing and therapeutic. “Initially it was a new challenge. Learning a new sport. I’ve always enjoyed learning new things. It was a big time challenge. For sure. [on surfing’s therapeutic quality] I’ve got buddies that go out there, they’re really not even interested in catching waves. They just want to be out in the ocean and sit there, be with their thoughts. You’re just there with your board, enjoying yourself. It’s a peaceful sport.”
This past year, it was announced that Kariya would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. “It’s the biggest honor I’ve ever had in my life. Something that never in my wildest dreams that I would have ever thought of in any point of my life.” It is quite the honor indeed, and Kariya is most deserving of it. It will be exciting to see him back in the limelight of the hockey world when he is officially inducted into the Hall in November.
The interview with Kariya can be viewed below.
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