As he wrote on the Players Tribune:
The thing about hockey is that it’s a fast game. Things happen in the blink of an eye. People are flying around. And when you get your bell rung, it’s not like everything stops. You know what I mean? You just keep playing. That’s how it works.
And it wasn’t really my coaches who pushed me to be that way. I expected it from myself. It was the only way I knew — me basically doing what I thought I was supposed to do, and what I saw everyone else doing. Push through, ignore the pain, finish out the shift, all that shit. It was all second nature to me.
So I’m definitely not looking to blame my coaches or anyone else for all those head hits I took over the years and never really said anything about.
I did it to myself. No doubt.
But over time, all those hits to the head … they add up. And when you look back on it, honestly, it’s hard not to shake your head at how bad things actually were.
I mean, I had eight or 10 confirmed concussions when I played in the NHL, but who knows how many others I just simply played through? I’d bet I had actually more like 20 or 30 of them altogether, and even that might be a bit low.
But I just fucking toughed it out every time and kept things moving.
Later in my career, it got to a point where I started blacking out after I took a big hit to the head. I’d kind of just wake up in the trainer’s chair with no recollection of what had gone down in the game for the most part, or even things leading into the game. Then I’d go back and watch the tape and see myself doing all sorts of stuff out on the ice that wasn’t familiar. It was like watching someone else play in my body.
And it was scary.
But by that point, I honestly didn’t even care anymore. I was gone, man. Straight up. I didn’t feel anything. I was a dead man skating. My last few seasons, I was out there basically just flat-out killing myself for a paycheck.
During my final year in the league, I got hit three times, with three punches, and got knocked out all three times.
It was absolutely insane.
I was always hurting. And in order for me to carry on, I had to mask all that pain.
At one point during my career, I was taking so many painkillers and other drugs on a daily basis that I started to not even be able to recognize the person I had become.
Trainers always had painkillers. So I took them. Often. And it just escalated from there. Eventually I couldn’t get as many as I wanted, and so I started buying them from people on the street. Just more and more and more.
After a while, each day, and even entire chunks of the season, became almost like a daze. I was so medicated, and it began to get pretty frightening for me. So I decided that I needed to do something. I got my courage up, and got my shit together, and found a way to tell some people with the team I was playing for that I had a problem. It took everything I had in me to do that, but the response I received when I spoke to people was really uplifting. Everyone I talked to was so understanding. Every single person said they were there for me, and that they wanted to get me the help I needed.
A few weeks later, after the season had ended, I was back home in Nobleton, Ontario, at the old town hall, helping my folks set up for my sister’s buck and doe party before her wedding, when the phone rang.
One of my buddies had seen my name on the ESPN ticker.
“Nick, what the hell, man? I can’t believe it.”
I had no clue what he was talking about.
Turns out that less than a month after I’d gone to my team and asked for help, I got traded away to another city.