Last December, Derek Dorsett heard the worst news a professional athlete could hear.
After undergoing cervical fusion surgery, Dorsett’s career was suddenly in doubt. There was no timeframe for his return, but he was medically cleared and was able to begin the 2017-18 season with the Vancouver Canucks.
After playing in 20 games, however, Dorsett was sent home from a road trip early when symptoms of neck and back stiffness presented. After an evaluation from specialists, Dorsett was urged by doctors to consider not playing again.
On Thursday, Canucks general manager Jim Benning announced that Dorsett will be removed from the team’s active roster. In a personal statement, Dorsett hinted at retirement.
“I’m devastated by the news. It will take a long time for this to truly sink in. As hard as it was to hear, Dr. Watkins’ diagnosis is definitive. There is no grey area, and it gives me clarity to move forward,” Dorsett said. “I have a heathy young family and a long life of opportunities ahead of me. Hockey taught me a lot and it will help me be successful in whatever I chose to do in the future.
“I still have so many thoughts to share and people to thank for all of their support. What I can say for certain right now is that I left it all out on the ice. I gave my heart and soul to the teams I played for and never backed down from a challenge, including this one,” Dorsett continued. “I am proud of the way I play. It made me successful and a good teammate. Most of all I am truly honored and grateful to have lived the NHL dream.”
Dorsett’s problems began in October 2016 when the wear of a nine-year NHL career became too much.
After absorbing a hit from Los Angeles Kings defenceman Brayden McNabb, Dorsett’s arm went numb.
“It really snowballed when I had that hit,” Dorsett said to The Province. “I kind of gave him the cold shoulder and then I felt a pop. I wasn’t really sure where it was but my arm went numb. I was able to rehab it and then I had another stinger and each time it was less impact. And the numbing sensation in my arm would stay longer.”
After four similar incidents within a month, Dorsett decided to do something about it. Through the surgery, Dorsett’s C5 and C6 vertebrae were fused, bone spurs were fixed, and a building disc was removed and replaced with a plastic spacer and bone marrow from his hip.
Dorsett rehabbed and was cleared to join the Canucks during training camp. After appearing in 20 games, Dorsett had the best start of any season in his career with nine points (8 goals, 1 assist).
But, his style of play isn’t best suited for someone with back problems. Dorsett has been credited with four NHL fights this season.
He’s also doled out 39 hits.
“He wasn’t the biggest guy, but he put his body on the line every night. Fighting, hitting, whatever it took. He was a mentor to me and I hope to be like him on the ice and in the room.” – Stecher on Dorsett
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) November 30, 2017
“When I was a rookie Dorse told me to sit with him on the plane. He taught me a lot: grit, work ethic and leadership. He’s got a young family and he’s doing what’s best. There’s more to life than hockey.” – Horvat
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) November 30, 2017
After his back and neck tightened up during a recent Canucks road trip, Dorsett was sent home for a professional evaluation.
“The latest evaluation of Derek’s neck revealed that he’s sustained a cervical disc herniation adjacent and separate to his previous fusion,” said Dr. Robert Watkins, the doctor who performed his surgery in 2016. “Given his current condition and the long-term, significant health risks, I advised Derek not to return to play.”
After playing in 515 NHL games through 10 seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, and Vancouver Canucks, Dorsett has made the tough decision to step away from the sport he loves. He had a long career, beating odds after being drafted in the seventh round of the 2006 NHL draft.
He should be very proud.
#Canucks GM Jim Benning announced today that Derek Dorsett will not return to the Canucks active roster due to health reasons and risks associated with playing. Dorsett has played 515 NHL games through 10 seasons (51-76-127) with three teams (Columbus, New York Rangers, Vancouver).
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Headline Photo: @Canucks
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