A recent email from a reader alerted me to the story of Sugden, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound pugilist drafted by the Maple Leafs in the fifth round back in 1996.
After bouncing around the minor leagues for the past 10 years, Sugden recently received an invite from the New York Islanders to attend their training camp. However, he’s been denied the opportunity after four NHL teams voted not to allow him back after he “retired” during the 2006-07 season while playing with the American League’s Syracuse Crunch.
The issue at hand is an NHL by-law requiring players who retire to sit out for one season before returning to action. Sugden didn’t do that. Shortly after leaving the Crunch, he began playing semi-pro hockey for the St-Jean Chiefs of the infamous Ligue Nord Américaine de Hockey (LNAH).
In order to play in the NHL without sitting out the mandatory year, the 30-year-old would have needed approval from all 30 NHL clubs.
Perhaps the teams who didn’t want Sugden in the NHL were worried about the “lifetime” ban he received for throwing a stick at a fan in 2000 while playing for the ECHL’s Peoria Rivermen.
Sugden, who couldn’t be reached by THN.com Friday after declining to comment Thursday, talked about the night of his suspension during an interview with HockeyFights.com in 2006:
“Well, it is well documented now that I had problems with different substances, chemical substances, everything, and I had played for Dayton for two years and I was kind of like the fan favorite in that town.
“But there was a couple of people that did not like me in that town and there was one particular booster lady that did not like me and when I came back from my first game, every time I touched the puck she had a whole section chanting “rehab” and other chants in that nature.
“I went through two periods of that and I was really upset about it. I came off the ice and saw her and I can hardly remember the thing. I guess, my stick – I don’t know if I really meant to throw it but – the stick left my hand and I don’t think the stick even hit the lady, but some security guards came into it.
“I remember going to jail in my bottoms and my equipment and then the next day hearing St. Louis dropped me and my agent dropped me and when I was struggling for life, I felt like my life was over.”
Sugden returned to hockey in 2001 with the Verdun Dragons of the Quebec Semi-Pro Hockey League (a previous incarnation of the LNAH) and eventually caught on with the Crunch, where he spent four seasons from 2003-2007.
A sad aspect of this story is the fact Sugden’s father, Travis, reportedly has cancer and only months to live. According to Lindsay Kramer, who covers the Crunch for Syracuse.com and has been following the story, part of the younger Sugden’s desire to reach the NHL so his father could see him play in the bigs before he passes on.
The NHLPA is reportedly looking into the situation on Sugden’s behalf.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog normally appears Fridays.
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