“It’s tough, but it’s just kind of what I had to do.”
It was supposed to be a comeback season. Instead, Estevan Bruins player Matthew Chekay was forced to hang up his skates for good after being hit from behind in his first game.
“I was like three feet out from the boards and I went in headfirst,” Chekay recalled. “I could feel everyone over top of me, but all I could hear was this ringing in my ears. I just knew right then that I’ve felt this before.”
It was concussion number five and the final straw for the 19-year-old.
Another head injury left him on the sideline for two long months last season, leaving him closer to risking major long-term symptoms.
He made the difficult decision to leave the game for good after undergoing concussion protocol in Estevan.
“I’m going to go a lot further with my head than I will with my hockey,” Chekay said. “I want to go into med school and do all that. It’s going to be a lot tougher if I keep doing hockey and keep getting head injuries.”
“It’s always sad to see a player forced into walking away from the game early,” Estevan Bruins head coach and general manager Chris Lewgood said. “Matthew has worked very hard at becoming the player he is today, and it seems unfair that it be taken away from him like this. That being said, ‘Cheks’ has an incredibly bright future ahead of him away from the ice and this decision is clearly the right one for his long-term health.”
On Wednesday, the Canadian Junior Hockey League implemented new concussion protocols for all 133 junior ‘A’ teams nationwide- including an app that will track player concussion history and symptoms.
The Estevan Bruins used a similar program last season, and while Chekay said it was a frustrating wait to return to the ice, the protocols did the job correctly and team staff were supportive.
“I think it’s a really good program. You’re never being rushed back to play. The worst thing you can do is get a concussion on top of a concussion without proper healing,” Chekay admitted.
While his on-ice career has been cut short, he still has plenty of highlights to reflect on.
Chekay won two Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League titles with the Regina Pat Canadians, and picked up a bronze medal at the 2015 TELUS Cup.
For now, he’s making sure his health is on track before starting his academic career at the University of Regina in January.
Chekay will continue to make the journey to Estevan to cheer the Bruins on through what he hopes will be a championship season-but he’ll doing it from the sideline.