On June 29, 2011, forward Paul Kariya was forced to retire after suffering six concussions.
“I feel very fortunate for the 15 years I spent in the NHL,” Kariya said then. “At some point, whether you play 10 or five or 20 years, you have to retire eventually – and no matter what you do afterward, you need your brain to be functioning.”
Since that day, Kariya has disappeared from the sport that made him famous, retreating to his Anaheim home twenty minutes away from Honda Center. Taking up surfing, Kariya was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame on July 26, 2017, but has not put on his hockey gear since April 10, 2010 – his final game in the NHL.
Wednesday night, TSN contributor Michael Farber spoke to Kariya in a feature entitled Resurfacing. Farber asks all the awkward and difficult questions to a player who was forced to end his career far too early.
The full transcript of the interview is below.
Michael Farber: “There was some people in Southern California that were disappointed you weren’t [at Teemu Selanne’s number retirement ceremony]. Where were you?”
Paul Kariya: “I had a family commitment and was out of town.”
Michael Farber: “Why haven’t you gone back.”
Paul Kariya: “I don’t know. People ask me this all the time. Why aren’t you at games? I’m not at games because I don’t play anymore. I’m not not out there because of any issue with hockey or the league. I keep a low public profile because I’m a private person.”
Michael Farber: “Describe your typical day.”
Paul Kariya: “I usually get up. Do some yoga, stretching, core work. Either surf out here or go surf with my buddies. Sometimes it’s an hour and a half. Sometimes it’s four hours, depending on how good the waves are. Come back home and spend some time with Val [partner] and Wyatt [his dog].”
Michael Farber: “You don’t have any hockey momentos in your house. Why?”
Paul Kariya: “I never kept momentos.”
Michael Farber: “Is that because you were afraid they would define you?”
Paul Kariya: “If I look anywhere, I try to look forward. But ideally, to be in the present.”
Michael Farber: “What is it about surfing that spoke to you?”
Paul Kariya: “Initially it was a new challenge. Learning a new sport. I’ve always enjoyed learning new things. It was a big time challenge.”
Michael Farber: “Is it therapeutic?”
Paul Kariya: “For sure. I’ve got buddies that go out there, they’re really not even interested in catching waves. They just want to be out in the ocean and sit there, be with their thoughts. You’re just there with your board, enjoying yourself. It’s a peaceful sport.”
Michael Farber: “When was the last time you put on your hockey gear?”
Paul Kariya: “My hockey gear was the last time I played in St. Louis.”
Michael Farber: “You haven’t been curious, gee what would it be like to be skating in my gear?”
Paul Kariya: “If I could, I would still be playing professionally. No questions asked.
“I woke up in a hospital bed. I didn’t know who I was or where I was. When I saw what happened, I was… furious wouldn’t describe the words. And not for myself, but for the fact that these hits were still happening in the game.”
Kariya’s sixth and final concussion.
Michael Farber: “How much of your brain function did you lose after the concussions?
Paul Kariya: “At the end of my career when I was tested by Dr. Lovell who created the IMPACT testing, I dropped over 60%. When I was tested by another doctor, just a general test for my general age group, I was testing in the 25th percentile. I was a decent student. I got into Harvard. I’m not a 25% student. There was significant damage.”
Michael Farber: “When did things start to clear and you thought I’m going to be okay?”
Paul Kariya: “Two years later.”
Michael Farber: “On some level, you’ve been reduced to Concussion Guy. Does that concern you?”
Paul Kariya: “I would like to be remembered for what type of player I was when I was playing and not when I was out.”
Michael Farber: “Your career… it should have been three Olympics. 989 points in 989 games. Second in Hart Trophy balloting. A Lady Byng winner. You were an important player in the league and there has been this reduction of your career into one thing.”
Paul Kariya: “Around this area, people will come up to me and say ‘I was at the arena when you got up from the Stevens hit.’ That’s how they remember me.”
Michael Farber: “What do you remember about the hit?”
Paul Kariya: “Nothing.”
Michael Farber: “Do you know how long you were out?”
Paul Kariya: “I’ve seen video of it but I don’t have any recollection of live time.”
Michael Farber: “48 seconds you were on the ice motionless. Do you remember getting up?”
Paul Kariya: “No.”
Michael Farber: “Do you remember going to the dressing room?”
Paul Kariya: “No.”
Michael Farber: “Do you remember coming back on the bench?”
Paul Kariya: “No.”
Michael Farber: “Do you remember scoring the goal?”
Paul Kariya: “No.”
Michael Farber: “Everyone else remembers you scoring the goal. You have no recollection?”
Paul Kariya: “I have no recollection of anything that happened before Game Six, Game Six, Game Seven, two days afterwards.”
Michael Farber: “Why doesn’t the league hire someone like you for Player Safety over the people who work there now?”
Paul Kariya: “That’s a question for the league.”
Michael Farber: “How should the league best address concussions?”
Paul Kariya: “I think today we’re in a way better spot when I retired. Things are moving in the right direction, but those targeted head shots are still in the game. And for me, there’s no reason to have that in the game.”
Michael Farber: “Is the Hall of Fame induction an honor or an intrusion?”
Paul Kariya: “It’s the biggest honor I’ve ever had in my life. Something that never in my wildest dreams that I would have ever thought of in any point of my life.”
[The two travel to a local hockey rink]
Paul Kariya: “Walking into a cold rink and feeling that on your body is something that when we came in here today that I really enjoyed.”
Michael Farber: “What made you fall in love with the game?”
Paul Kariya: “I don’t know if there was an instant or a moment ,but as a kid growing up in Vancouver, everybody was playing hockey. My best memories of that time was going to Sunday morning hockey. There was free ice every Sunday morning at like 5:30 AM. Playing the game was unbelievable.
“There were some tough times for sure, but the great times far outweigh those.”
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