About a year ago, a player on one of the teams in my beer league died from a heart attack suffered on the ice. He hadn’t been feeling well and collapsed while walking back to the locker room with a teammate. He had died before the ambulance even arrived.

I didn’t know this person, but a lot of my teammates had played with him over the years. Some of them attended his wake. As many of us are now over 40, we couldn’t help but think of our own mortality. Not too long ago we all heard the news about how actor Alan Thicke died of a heart attack at the age of 69 while playing hockey with one of his sons (not Robin). Bob Suter, a member of the USA team that won gold in 1980, also died from a heart attack suffered on the ice. I had a good friend, Mike Klink, die on the ice many years ago. I hadn’t been in touch with him for some time, so I only heard about it six months after it happened. It was then that I first realized just how common heart problems on the ice can be.

CBC News has a good article online that goes into the reasons why middle-aged hockey players (40 and older) are at increased risk of having heart attacks while playing hockey. The gist of the article is that many of these players (including myself) tend to spend most of their time being fairly sedentary, and get the majority of their physical activity playing hockey. While they may be in “hockey shape”, what can happen is that the overexertion can result in both heart attacks and strokes on the ice. Adding daily activity such as walking 30 minutes a day during your lunch break can help remedy this.

Something else that really bothered me about the player in my league that died is that the rink we play in didn’t have an AED (automated external defibrillator). In fact, THEY STILL DON’T HAVE ONE. An AED is a device that can be used by anyone to help restore a heartbeat. Using one can buy enough time for the paramedics to arrive and take over, literally saving a life. Plus, an AED is easy to use, abstracting all the complication by talking or giving clear instructions on how to use it. Another twin rink I play at sometimes does have a single AED, located behind the front desk. In my opinion, there should be an AED in each actual rink, located in a conspicuous location. You shouldn’t have to go searching for it in each rink or have to go behind the front desk to get it.

In Canada, most rinks will have an AED. In the United States, a rink may or may not be required to have one – this will depend upon the state’s laws. If your rink doesn’t have one, suggest to the manager that they should consider it. If you are a team manager, bring it up in the league meetings. By not having an AED, a rink may be opening themselves up to lawsuits for failing to maintain a safe environment. There is precedent for this in cases involving gyms and health clubs, where the risk of heart conditions were known from prior incidents, yet an AED was never purchased. An AED can cost upwards of $2,000, which should be easy to pay for with a small surcharge for a single season. It would be a small price to pay if it could save a life. Next time you go to your local rink, take the time to see if and where the AEDs are located. Also check to see if the devices show an expiration date and are current, and inform the management if the AED needs attention.

Another thing we can all do is take the time to learn and stay current with CPR. This doesn’t only affect our lives on the rink, this is a skill that could save a life anywhere. Classes are often offered for free in the USA from the American Heart Association and other organizations. Similar programs exist in Canada as well. This can help in conjunction with an AED, or as the last resort if the AED doesn’t exist or isn’t working.

The good news is that a heart attack is often preceded by many warning signs, such as chest pain or shortness of breath. Sometimes a heart condition is not related to age or conditioning. In 2014, Rich Peverly of the Dallas Stars slumped over on the bench, having suffered from a heart attack. Quick attention and the use of an AED restored his pulse quickly — he was so out of it when he came to he wanted to get back out on the ice! Now that’s a hockey player!

Last year, Nick of Beer League Talk wanted to raise money and awareness for heart attack prevention in adult hockey players by playing hockey for 31 days straight. You can see all of the highlights on Youtube here.

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