By Tucker Wilson
An NHL dressing room harbors a lot of secrets—some with good reason. But the environment also encourages players to remain silent on the physical and mental tolls of the game, something that Steve Ludzik wants to change.
The former Blackhawk player and Lightning coach was in Toronto Thursday for a speaking engagement, and he talked about some of the stigmas associated with hockey culture.
“You sit in a dressing room and the guys, if you have a good team, you’re a brother,” Ludzik said. “It’s not good enough to say, ‘I’m hurt.’ You get hurt some nights and you just play. That’s the mentality that you grow up with throughout your career. You’re pressured. But it’s just part of the code.”
Ludzik, 54, suffers from Parkinson’s. He attributed the disease to the many head injuries he suffered in his playing days and believes he’s not the only one that’s suffering post-retirement.
“I think you’re going to see Parkinson’s disease and neurological damage to a lot of players,” he said. It comes out later in life. Mine came out early.”
Ludzik was diagnosed when he was 39, while coaching Tampa Bay, but hid the diagnosis from the public for over a decade.
“I was scared of what people were going to think,” he said. “Would they think of me as a cripple? In hockey, you hide when you’re hurt, because you don’t want enemies coming after you, picking on that certain spot. I think I did a good job.”
But those enemies did come after him while Ludzik served as a pundit on The Score. Ludzik’s slurred speech, a symptom of Parkinson’s, led several members of the press to accuse him of being drunk on-air.
“It was very hard for me to stomach that and not be able to fight back and say, ‘No, I’m not drunk, I’ve got Parkinson’s. My mind still works 100 percent,’” he said.
Ludzik’s comments came a day after the #BellLetsTalk movement, a campaign raising awareness of mental health. He said there’s a stigma with players talking about both mental and physical health problems when their careers are over.
That’s something Ludzik would like to change and these speaking engagements are his way of raising awareness about post-career disabilities. It’s become Ludzik’s new passion – outside of hockey, of course.
“I thought I’d be remembered as the greatest hockey player that ever lived,” he said. “Didn’t happen. Thought I’d be known as the greatest coach that ever lived. Didn’t happen. Then I knew when I went on TV I’d be the greatest thing on TV, and that didn’t happen. What I’m really meant to do is raise money for Parkinson’s disease, and I’m pretty happy with that. If that’s my final resting spot, I’m happy with it.”