Tyson Verhelst was hoping his head injury problems were behind him when he was dealt to the Red Deer Rebels in late September.
The 19-year-old goaltender suffered a concussion three years previous while with the Neepawa Natives of the MJHL, then two more during two seasons with the Spokane Chiefs.
But bad, horribly rotten misfortune continued to hound Verhelst following the trade. In early October, while on his way to the Centrium to make his first official appearance in a Rebels jersey — as a back-up due to the fact he was barely back in playing shape — he slipped and struck his head just outside of his billet’s home.
“It was during a snow storm. There was black ice on the stairs (outside the home) and unfortunately I didn’t see it and fell off,” Verhelst said this week.
Now back home in Brandon, Verhelst was recently advised by Dr. Michael Ellis, a concussion consultant for the Winnipeg Jets, that it be best that he retire from the sport.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Verhelst, who nevertheless is preparing to turn the page and take advantage of the education scholarship money he has accrued while in the WHL.
Just after Verhelst suffered his last concussion, Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter had a sit-down discussion with the goaltender.
“He came in and I talked to him and told him not to do anything, to just stay away from the rink and take it easy,” said Sutter, who was fully aware of Verhelst’s concussion history but was impressed by the manner in which the Brandon native was progressing in practice following the trade.
Sutter and Rebels athletic therapist Josh Guenther eventually agreed that Verhelst would be better served by putting hockey on the back burner and concentrating on returning to full health.
“Josh and I talked about it and agreed that Tyson’s health was first and foremost, and that he forget about the game,” said Sutter. “I talked to Tyson to see if he wanted to go back home and see the same doctors that had taken care of him in Manitoba.”
Verhelst agreed and returned to Brandon in short order. He underwent tests every two weeks while consulting with an optometrist, a neurosurgeon and finally — following a referral — Dr. Ellis.
“We felt that it would be best for him to not even worry about hockey and instead just focus in on his health and getting better,” said Sutter.
“Tyson called me yesterday (Monday) and said the doctors will inform me that his best option, his best course of action, is to quit playing and move on.”
The news didn’t shatter Verhelst, who had considered retiring from hockey during the summer due to his past concussion problems and the fact they still weighed on his mind.
“In the summer I wasn’t sure if I would be able to return (to Spokane) just because of the concussions and where my head was at with the concussions,” he said.
When he learned he had been dealt to the Rebels, he decided to continue with his playing career.
“When I found out Brent was pushing for a trade and then it actually happened, that kind of made my decision easier,” said Verhelst.
Now that his on-ice career is over, Verhelst is charting another course. He will enrol in the police studies program at Lethbridge Community College next September.
“I can go there for two years and then start applying to police agencies,” he said, adding that he believes he has “three or four” years worth of WHL scholarship finances coming his way.
Sutter is full agreement with Verhelst that he pursue a post-secondary education.
“He and I talked about how now is an opportunity for him to take advantage of the education scholarship he’s owed and go from there,” said Sutter.
“Hockey is a sport, a game . . . something we all love doing. But it doesn’t come ahead of health and life. Like I told Tyson, he’s a young man who has a lot of life ahead of him and he wants to be healthy while living his life.
“If this is what the doctors are recommending, then this is exactly what he should do.”