In a matter of minutes, the life of Jordan Boyd went from a promising prospect stepping on the ice as a Titan for the first time, to the tragic end of the 16-year-old’s life.
The fourth round pick of Acadie-Bathurst was skating during his first workouts on the opening day of Titan training camp Monday when he experienced discomfort after some hard skating and collapsed to the ice, unprompted. The impact from the fall was so violent that it broke his nose and jaw.
Workouts continued on the other end of the ice while the training staff worked on Boyd. Players were escorted off the ice after only a couple of minutes.
The athletic therapist on-site at the workouts cut his gear away for easier access and tried several times to revive Boyd, who was then taken in an ambulance to Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst, N.B. A defibrillator was used on Boyd in the ambulance, but it was unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Boyd, a native of Bedford, N.S., was attending his first QMJHL training camp with his cousin, Titan goaltender Jacob Brennan. The team said that he didn’t have any known medical concerns coming into camp and passed his physical with no issues. An autopsy, requested by the family, will be conducted to determine cause of death.
The team cancelled their remaining activities Monday, but resumed camp on Tuesday.
“We are all in shock,” league commissioner Gilles Courteau told La Presse on Monday. “The league lost a young player filled with talent and potential. Our thoughts are with the family, friends and the team right now. The league will do whatever it takes to assist with that.”
Boyd was picked 66th overall in the 2013 QMJHL Entry Draft. He played 41 games for Rothesay Netherwood prep school outside Saint John, scoring 17 goals and adding 22 assists. He also played for Team Nova Scotia at the 2013 QMJHL Excellence Challenge, a 16-year-old showcase of draft eligible prospects, where he collected four points in five games.
Paul Kitchen, the head of Rothesay Netherwood School, said that he spoke recently to Boyd about his future.
“He was planning on going to the Titan camp and see what transpired,” Boyd told Adam Huras of the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John. “He was in really good shape and had worked really hard to get ready for the camp.
“Jordan [was] a great kid and fit into the school really well. He was a real positive contributor, he worked really hard and had good results.”
Bill Short from the elite program of Hockey Nova Scotia added that he worked really hard preparing for training camp. Short had been working with him to get him ready.
“I’d never seen him work as hard as he did this summer,” Short said.
Friends and ex-teammates were also devastated.
“He was training so hard all summer,” Boyd’s long-time friend Luc Poirier told the National Post. “He was in top shape. It’s just a tragedy, really. It’s something nobody could have thought about before it happened. You wouldn’t expect that.”
“He was a kid who was always smiling,” said Mitchell Vanderlaan, the captain of the team at Rothesay Netherwood. “He was good to be around because he was an uplifting guy. Warm-hearted.
“He never seemed to be out of shape or anything like that,” he added. “He seemed pretty fit, overall.”
Kevin Higo, his ex-coach at Rothesay Netherwood, said he was pushed hard during the season to make up for a late start, but didn’t show any sign of problems.
“We really pushed him for, probably, the first two or three weeks he was there,” he said. “There were no indications [of a problem].
“He was preparing to earn a spot but was staying realistic. He was prepared to put in the work, for sure.”
News of his death spread quickly all around the world, with outlets all over Canada, the US and abroad picking up the story. Twitter was filled with positive messages with the hashtag “#JB17”. Rory Boylen wrote a blog post about how events like this unite the hockey community, but also remind us of the humanity that sport sometimes ignores.
“There’s a lot to love about being involved in hockey,” Boylen wrote. “Not only are you a part of the most passionate supporters in sport, you’re part of an open-armed community that binds together through difficult times across allegiances, leagues and oceans. It’s why hockey has the best people of all the major sports. It’s why the hockey community is something special to be involved in.
“It’s why the hockey world is so small.”
Shockingly similar memories for the hockey community
Boyd’s death wasn’t the first one to occur on the ice during QMJHL workouts. In 1978, Daniel Richard, 17, collapsed and died during a practice playing with the Quebec Remparts. The Canadian Press reported that Richard suffered “a form of a heart attack” related to a rare congenital defect.
The events Monday also brought forth memories of other athletes who had suffered a similar fate.
Sergei Zholtok, a ten-year NHL veteran with six teams, collapsed in the tunnel connecting the ice with the dressing rooms following a shift in a game while playing for Riga 2000 in Latvia and died in the team’s dressing room. Zholtok had earlier been diagnosed with arrhythmia.
Brett MacLean, former Phoenix Coyote, suffered cardiac arrest after playing shinny hockey in the summer of 2012. MacLean later said that he had no signs of any discomfort until it happened, but now has a small defibrillator device implanted in his chest, and was forced to retire from hockey.
Jiri Fischer, then playing with the Detroit Red Wings, suffered from cardiac arrest while sitting on the bench during a game against the Nashville Predators. He survived, but never played again in the NHL. Fischer has since been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
Mickey Renaud, former Windsor Spitfires captain, collapsed and died at his family’s home in Tecumseh, Ont., where it was later discovered he suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
Alexei Cherepanov, a first-round pick of the New York Rangers, collapsed and died on the bench following a game in the KHL. Cherepanov’s death was much investigated and speculated, from anything to a rare heart-defect uncommon in young athletes to steroids, however it was later suspected that Cherepanov also suffered from HCM.
Dr. Anthony Colucci, quoted in this Bob McKenzie column about Cherepanov’s death from 2009, said that often the first and only symptom of HCM is when a player collapses from activity.
“This is the leading cause of death in elite athletes who exhibit no other symptoms and then collapse during activity," Dr. Colucci said in the column.
Dr. Colucci was the doctor who saved Fischer’s life in 2005 in Detroit. He adds that quick treatment of the collapsed player is critical for the athlete’s survival.
"[Four minutes] is the maximum amount of time the brain can go without blood flow from the heart," Dr. Colucci said. "After that, there's irreparable brain damage."
He added that conducting CPR and having a working defibrillator on-site can improve survival rates rapidly.
"There is nothing that guarantees anything 100 per cent," Dr. Colucci said, "but if you do the CPR properly and use defibrillation, your chances [of revival] increase dramatically, they go way, way up. If you only do CPR, they go way, way down. If you only do defibrillation, they go way, way down."
Boyd did receive defibrillator treatment Monday, and CPR was performed by the athletic trainers on-site at the K.C. Irving Regional Centre. Until autopsy results are discovered, we won’t know exactly the cause of Boyd’s death.
The team and league plays on
The Acadie-Bathurst Titan continued their training camp Tuesday, just a day after the tragic loss of a teammate.
Three psychologists are at camp starting today to help the players if they ask, and Tuesday’s workouts were voluntary.
“I was in complete shock; I couldn’t move,” Blainville-Boisbriand Armada general manager Joël Bouchard told TVA Sport Monday.
“When that happens, the first thing you think about is your family,” Quebec Remparts coach-GM Philippe Boucher added. “I am a coach, but I also have kids at training camps and it really makes you think about your family first.”
“We live around it a bit, you’re kind of in your own little world when you train,” Armada defenceman Olivier Picard said. “It’s surreal when something like that happens. It reminds you that you’re human.”
The team’s facebook page posted a picture of a rainbow over the team’s home arena and said: “Jordan is now an angel and he will look over the Titan and the KC Irving … this season will be played for him!”
The commissioner is awaiting the medical report before any further league action will be taken.
“We all have many questions for which we are hoping to get answers for during the next several days, through the autopsy report. Moreover, after talking with the Titan’s medical staff, I was assured that Jordan Boyd had gone through a complete medical evaluation and didn’t seem to have any medical condition preventing him from participating,” Courteau said.
The league added they will make no further comment to protect the privacy of the Boyd family and friends.