One year to the day since the last time defenseman Keith Ballard laced up for an NHL game, the 33-year-old has announced Wednesday he is retiring because of concussions he suffered over the course of his career.
Ballard told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo that he believes he suffered five concussions during his playing days, though he admits he had his “bell rung” a number of times, including once during a fight in his rookie season when he went toe-to-toe with Bill Guerin. Ballard said he played the rest of the game, but was “a little foggy.”
The latest concussion for Ballard came Dec. 9, 2014 in a game against the New York Islanders. Ballard’s head connected with the top of the boards following a hit from Islanders winger Matt Martin, and Ballard remained on the ice for a few minutes before being able to get to his feet. He suffered convulsions and three facial fractures, according to Russo. A stretcher was brought out for Ballard, but he exited the ice on his skates with the help of training staff.
Russo spoke with Ballard in the summer, who at that time said he wasn’t sure what the future would hold for him. Ballard said he was trying to get healthy, trying to recover, but said he was “freaked out about what would happen the next time.” And Wednesday he decided to step away from the game for good.
"I didn't want to retire at this time, but with the bigger picture in mind, it was a no-brainer," Ballard told Russo this week. "You look at so many athletes and they struggle for so long and I don't want that to be me. I want to live a healthy life, be there for my wife and kids."
In speaking with Russo now, Ballard said the headaches have subsided but he recalled a time during the summer when he was forced to lay down after feeling dizzy while playing with his children. He says now, though, his daily routine has been all right.
Ballard is currently enrolled at University of Minnesota, where he played during his NCAA days, and is studying sports management, he told Russo. Ballard said he’s going to also be heading for an internship with his former agent.
Over the course of his career, Ballard played 604 games, scoring 38 goals and 175 points. He was drafted 11th overall by the Sabres in 2002 after spending three seasons with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, but never played in Buffalo. Ballard was a Hobey Baker Award finalist in 2003-04. During his 10-year NHL career, he played for Phoenix, Florida, Vancouver and Minnesota.