Saturday, June 10, 2006

Traverse City forward hangs up skates

If Traverse City North Stars forward Joe St. John had the chance, he says he’d “do it all over again.” Those words came out of his mouth just days after doctors recommended that the Gaylord product discontinue his hockey career due to recurring concussions.

“It’s done, and that’s that,” explained St. John, who signed with the North Stars last May, eschewing his final season at Gaylord to play junior hockey. “It’s like something has been taken away, something that’s been such a big part of my life for so long. But I have no regrets. I did what I had to do.”

St. John suffered a pair of concussions little more than a month apart, leaving a Feb. 23 contest at Centre ICE arena following a collision with a Texas player, and capping his season – and career – on a run-in with Team USA’s Ryan Schnell during Game 2 of the NAHL North Division playoffs on March 31 at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube.

“These weren’t just two concussions, they were two nasty concussions,” said North Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “And it’s too bad because Joe was really developing into a nice junior player, really starting to come into his own. He’s a big power forward and we’ll certainly miss him on and off the ice.”

St. John was one of the best players in Gaylord prep hockey history, landing on the Traverse City Record-Eagle All-Region team in each of his three seasons with the Blue Devils. He set a school record with 25 assists during the 2003-04 campaign, leading Gaylord to its first-ever state championship game appearance. The 6-1, 210-pounder registered three goals and assisted on three others in 35 outings for the North Stars.

“I had a fun time in Traverse City,” St. John added. “I loved my teammates and had a fun experience. I’d still do it all again if I had the chance, but now I gotta think about the future – the rest of my life, basically. There’s that bigger picture.”

The North Stars lost three players to injury this season with St. John and Tony Swarthout suffering recurring concussions, and Zeke Costello out for the season with a broken arm.

“It’s unfortunate, but you take a chance any time you go out there and play hockey at a high level – really any contact sport,” Gardiner said. “And the concussions you’re seeing more and more. In a way it’s a good thing because you never want anyone to suffer long-term effects of an injury, but with medical technology evolving and science telling us more and more about concussions, we’re able to protect the players better. In the old days, guys would go out and play through it. Now we know better.”

Despite the end of one athletic career, St. John – a senior at Traverse City Central -- wasn’t on the sidelines for long.

“The doctor said no contact sports, so I’m trying to play baseball,” St. John chided. “It’s a little less physical than hockey.”

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