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Keith Ballard Retires One Year After Concussion


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Keith Ballard didn’t realize Wednesday was the one-year anniversary of his last hockey game until he called to make an appointment with a neurologist, and the receptionist asked the date of his last concussion.

It has been one year since that frightening sight on the Xcel Energy Center ice, a headfirst collision with the top of the boards between the benches that left Ballard convulsing and with three facial fractures. It has been one year, yet the former Gophers great and Coyotes, Panthers, Canucks and Wild defenseman still experiences symptoms “here and there” from the latest concussion he had during his hockey career.

Ballard is back in college at the University of Minnesota, where he pursues his degree in sports management. If he stares at a computer for long hours as he writes a paper, it’ll sometimes trigger dizziness, fogginess, “that in-a-daze feeling.” If he overexerts himself physically, he’ll sometimes feel “a little confusion, bad sleeping and headaches.”

“The headaches aren’t bad like they were,” Ballard said by phone this week. “The last time I had them really bad was in August. I didn’t do any real physical activity in the summer other than going for walks, but nothing close to summer hockey training. One day, we were playing tag with the kids outside and I started getting real dizzy and bad headaches. I had to lay down and that seemed to trigger other things.

“Chopping wood one day, I suddenly had to stop.”


Ballard, who turned 33 a few weeks ago, will never play another NHL game. He is making his retirement from a 10-year, 604-game NHL career official, and the husband and father of two sounds at peace with that decision.

“I didn’t want to retire at this time, but with the bigger picture in mind, it was a no-brainer,” Ballard said. “You look at so many athletes and they struggle for so long and I don’t want that to be me. I want to live a healthy life, be there for my wife and kids.”

It has been a slow process, but Ballard sees doctors often and has found one in Apple Valley, a NUCCA chiropractor named Kerry Johnson, that has done wonders.

“It’s gotten a lot better,” Ballard said. “My day-to-day stuff is good for the most part.”

Head injuries


The subject of concussions is suddenly a big topic in sports because of the potential long-term effects. The recent deaths of players like Derek Boogaard and Steve Montador, who had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) from years of head trauma, have put this in the public eye.

Ballard thinks he was diagnosed with five concussions during his career, the first in 2010 when his head hit the glass on a clean check. Ballard “wobbled off the ice in a daze.”

Those five don’t include the times he got his “bell rung.”

“I remember my first year I got in a fight with Billy Guerin and he got me pretty good,” Ballard said. “It was one of those where the rest of the game you’re a little foggy.”

Dozens of former players have also joined a lawsuit alleging the NHL concealed the risks of concussions and brain diseases from players. Ballard hasn’t paid a lot of attention to the lawsuit and it “hasn’t crossed my mind” to join.


“When I came in, I don’t know if the guys 20 years ago have a different story, but you understood it,” Ballard said. “Maybe it’s a byproduct of being a young player and you want to stay in the lineup, you don’t want to be injured, so you might not mention the little stuff.

“If I make a full recovery from this concussion, I’ll chalk it up to good luck because, I’ll be honest, if I was hit like that again, I’m freaked out about what could happen the next time.”

Gopher days

Ballard looks back at his career with pride. Drafted 11th overall in 2002 by the Buffalo Sabres, Ballard came to the Gophers as one of the most elite recruits in the country.

Joining a “crazy good” left side of the blue line with Jordan Leopold and Paul Martin, Ballard won the first of two consecutive NCAA championships in 2002. A 2004 Hobey Baker finalist and All-American, Ballard ranks seventh in goals (33) and 12th in points (100) by a defenseman in Gophers history.


Those three years at the U, the Canucks’ 2010 run to the Stanley Cup Final, his first game with the Wild and his first NHL game for the Coyotes in Vancouver in 2005 are his best memories.

“I happened to score that game, Wayne Gretzky was my coach and my teammates were guys like Brett Hull and Shane Doan. So cool for me,” Ballard said.

University of Minnesota head coach Don Lucia and associate coach Mike Guentzel call Ballard one of the great “program guys” and “character people” in Gophers history. Ballard has given back to the program financially and with his time.

“He’s just such a quality person,” Lucia said.

“Such an emotional competitor,” said Guentzel.


What’s next?

Lucia’s favorite “Keith Ballard moment” came during the Gophers’ 2002 WCHA first-round sweep of the University of North Dakota.

“Keith could run his mouth with the best of them, especially when we played UND,” Lucia said. “In Game 2, Keith got into a scuffle to the right of our bench and he ends up pulling one of their defenseman’s jerseys right over his head. And when I say over his head, I mean completely over the top of his head down the front like he was pulling it off.

“As the guy’s in the midst of trying to get the jersey back over, Keith takes off, joins the play and ends up scoring the game-winning goal in overtime,” Lucia said, laughing.

Ballard is ready to get on with the next phase of his life. The full-time student is taking 15 credits this semester (he made a big presentation at school Tuesday night) and needs another 13 next semester to graduate. That will include what’s bound to be a fun internship with his old agent, Ben Hankinson, at Octagon Hockey in the spring.


Does Ballard want to be an agent?

“I’m not sure,” he said. “Everyone always asks, ‘What do you want to do? What do you want to do?’ I’ve been doing my dream job for the last how many years, so it’s something I haven’t narrowed down.

“I’ll either I love it or know this isn’t for me. Whatever I do next will be a little out of my comfort zone, and I’m very excited about that.”

Didn't see a thread on this.

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Always liked Ballard, never felt like he was utilized properly during his time here. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy too, and a good teammate. Those days are long gone though. 

In the end it sucks that he's retired, it's not on his terms and concussions are nasty thing but it sounds like he's as much at peace with it as he can be given how it all shook down and that's okay with me. The best of luck to him going forward, he was a warrior out there. :(

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Guy had horrible fortune.  Was a hell of a two way defenseman before the injury train started hitting him on a regular basis.

Never really seemed to recover from the concussion he suffered early in Vancouver.  Returned too early - and his game was just too cautious after that.

Wish him the best.  Hate to see guys like that made into whipping boys. 

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Was always a fan of Ballard...I thought that he handled himself like a real pro when he was here in Vancouver (I suppose it's easy to be a pro when things going well, but when things are rocky, that's when you see what kind of character a dude has, and Ballard had lots of it).  Ballard was a stud in Phoenix and I was excited when I heard that the Canucks acquired him for Grabner (waiver fodder at the time) and a first.  Also liked the Oreskovich kid (too bad his heart for hockey was not as big as Ballard's).

I think he got off on the wrong foot in Vancouver, having the hip surgery before getting here and not being in top shape at camp. I'm sure there's more to it than just that, but perhaps that was the beginning of a bad relationship between him and AV.  Strange how players who are durable before they get to Vancouver all of sudden become fragile once they are here.  Must be the west coast curse, or something like that.

33 years old...Ballard's got his whole life in front of him.  He must be enjoying being a milionaire student...good on him.  I hope he has a great and bountiful life after hockey.


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Poor guy. I never had a problem with his play as a Canuck. 

I wonder if he saw the dark humour in this statement:

1 hour ago, SvenBae said:

“I didn’t want to retire at this time, but with the bigger picture in mind, it was a no-brainer,” Ballard said.


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Always liked Ballard, can't get enough of his hipchecks, wishing he was allowed more leeway during his time here. Unfortunately, injuries, whatever it else it was, it never happened.

Still can't believe we burnt a year off of Corrado's ELC when Ballard was perfectly fine in the pressbox, now because of that, we no longer have Corrado as depth. (Didn't find anything special in Corrado for the playoff games)

Also nice to finally have an update of him since his last concussion with Minnesota, glad he's enjoying his time with his family and making good use of his time in pursuing a degree in sports management.

Hope he continues to recover.

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3 hours ago, oldnews said:

Guy had horrible fortune.  Was a hell of a two way defenseman before the injury train started hitting him on a regular basis.

Never really seemed to recover from the concussion he suffered early in Vancouver.  Returned too early - and his game was just too cautious after that.

Wish him the best.  Hate to see guys like that made into whipping boys. 

Agree completely. I was one of the guys defending Vigneault's use of Rome (and Tanev, for that matter) over Ballard, but it was never anything against KB4. As you say, events conspired against him, not the least of which was the signing of Hamhuis after he was traded to Vancouver.

The guy was a phenomenal skater and I've always been very disappointed that it didn't work out for him here.

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Ballard strikes me as the kinda' bloke any avg fan would love to have a beer with..perhaps Bieksa's spontaneity, minus the precise uppercuts.

I sense this bloke had a real sense of joy/humour in his personality. Aside from the concussion health effects, it's a further illustration of what we're sacrificing(in these heroes, & by extension, ourselves) in maintaining the status quo.

With where we stand in 2015, pretty sad when an entity MUST be urged to please, get with the 20th century(never mind the 21st!)...

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Always liked Ballard.  Still think he never got a fair chance here to gel with anyone.  I remember when we traded for him and a significant amount,  and signed Hamhuis,  thought they were going to be our top pairing.  

He was a leader in shot blocks, hits, and such a smooth skater.

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Poor Ballard, he never had any luck. Wish he didn't spin at the last moment, or that Martin saw it in time to not follow through with the hit.

It's always a shame when a player is forced to retire because of injuries. That's been the case for a number of former Canuck defencemen sadly.

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