April 25th, 2024

Family of Bob Murdoch says two-time Stanley Cup winner suffered from CTE

By Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press on March 27, 2024.

Philadelphia Flyers center Bobby Clarke (16) pushes Montreal Canadiens defenseman Bob Murdoch (23) into the boards in the third period of an NHL semifinal playoff game, April 22, 1973 in Philadelphia. Murdoch's family says the two-time Stanley Cup champion suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive and fatal disease associated with repeated traumatic brain injuries. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP Photo

The family of Bob Murdoch says the two-time Stanley Cup champion suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive and fatal disease associated with repeated traumatic brain injuries.

The Concussion Legacy Foundation said in a statement Wednesday that Boston University CTE Center researchers made the diagnosis after Murdoch died in August at age 76.

The foundation added Murdoch’s widow, Bev, released the findings to raise awareness around the long-term effects of repetitive blows to the head in hockey.

The brain study found Murdoch, who was also the NHL’s coach of the year in 1989-90 with the Winnipeg Jets, suffered from stage 3 CTE at the time of his death.

Murdoch is the latest ex-NHLer to be diagnosed posthumously with the disease, which can’t be confirmed while a person is alive. Doctors can, however, identify suspected cases based on symptoms and neurological exams.

Former NHL enforcer Chris Simon died by suicide last week at age 52. His family said in a statement it “strongly believes” CTE was to blame. The NHL has repeatedly disputed any links between hockey and CTE, including at the league’s recent general managers’ meetings in Florida.

Murdoch played for the Montreal Canadiens, Los Angeles Kings and Atlanta/Calgary Flames over 12 seasons from 1970-82, registering 60 goals and 278 points.

The defenceman from Kirkland Lake, Ont., won the Stanley Cup with the Canadiens in 1971 and 1973.

“This diagnosis was not a surprise,” Bev Murdoch, Bob’s wife of 37 years, said in the statement provided by the Concussion Legacy Foundation. “He knew, we all knew, intuitively what caused his suffering. So much more needs to be done in professional hockey to acknowledge and prevent CTE.

“If not, there will be more people like Bob who will lose many years of their lives.”

The foundation said 16 of 17 NHL players studied in the United States and Canada have now been diagnosed with CTE, including Murdoch’s former Montreal teammates Ralph Backstrom and Henri Richard, as well as Stan Mikita, Bob Probert and Steve Montador.

Murdoch was an assistant with the Flames before coaching the Chicago Blackhawks (1987-88) and original Jets (1989-91). He won the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year in 1989-90 after Winnipeg improved by 11 wins and 21 points.

The family said Murdoch began to experience mild cognitive impairment in 2015 before being diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia, Parkinsonism and Alzheimer’s disease in 2019. Murdoch suspected CTE was contributing to his symptoms and made the decision to donate his brain to Boston University after his death, the Concussion Legacy Foundation said.

“It’s not only the athletes who suffer,” Bev Murdoch said. “This disease causes such a significant impact on the family, especially the spouses who become caregivers. For seven years, I watched the love of my life disappear.”

The Concussion Legacy Foundation said researchers are studying whether CTE increases the risk of developing additional brain diseases later in life.

“I’m disappointed that the NHL still refuses to acknowledge a clear causal relationship between repetitive head impacts and CTE,” Dr. Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology for the VA Boston Healthcare System and director of the Boston University CTE Center and UNITE Brain Bank, said in the statement.

“I wish (NHL commissioner Gary Bettman) could see the damage these brains endure and the pain this disease causes families.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2024.

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