In mid December, Morrisburg Junior B Lions’ captain Matthew Ouimet, 22, had to put his love for hockey aside,and consider his health and his future.
In a mid-December game, the talented defenceman, an anchor for the local team, took a hit, “not a severe hit and not a dirty hit”, but a hit that resulted in a concussion.
It wasn’t his first, so he knew immediately what was happening.
When he gets a concussion Matthew explains, “I feel very lost right after the hit, and I feel nauseous if it’s bad enough. Sometimes there is memory loss and it’s not clear to me what’s happened.”
Ouimet started playing hockey at the age of four in the Cumberland house league. At the age of 10, he tried out for the Cobras of the Eastern Ontario AA, and then at age 16 he was drafted to the Central Junior Hockey League.
Over the next three years, he played for the Hawkesbury Hawks, Kemptville 73s and the Kanata Knights.
In 2009, he moved to Junior B and played for the Ottawa Junior Canadian and the Alexandria Glens before coming to the Morrisburg Junior B Lions in a trade in the fall of the 2010-2011 season.
Although he missed half of last season due to a concussion, he wanted to return to the Lions for his final year of junior hockey as an overage player.
The decision ended up giving him just over two months of hockey before he called it quits in December.
Ouimet says he can’t rule out having had concussions while he played minor hockey, but “they started getting severe when I started junior hockey. The first few were pretty severe, and they were from some very dirty hits, blind sides and elbows to the jaw.”
As a defenceman, Matthew says many of the hits that resulted in a concussion occurred in the corners, after the opposing team has dumped the puck in.
After his first couple of concussions, it no longer required a a dirty hit, or even a very severe hit. “As time went on it required less force. They weren’t obviously bad hits, the concussions just came on easier.”
In addition to the immediate symptons of the concussion, Matthew says there were times when after a couple of weeks he was still getting severe headaches and was having trouble concentrating at school.
He admits that when he was hit this past December, he was already at the point where, “I was questioning if I should be risking my whole life.”
Matthew is currently a volunteer with the Clarence Rockland Fire Department, where he is gaining experience to become a full-time firefighter.
“There is a point where you have to look at your future. It was very hard for me to have to stop playing hockey.”
And he admits, “I have enjoyed my time here with the Lions, more than any other team I’ve been with. The coaching staff here is amazing. I absolutely love this team.”
Matthew came to the Lions at time when he was losing his enthusiasm for the game.
“Matt Ouimet is the example of commitment and playing for the love of the game,” says Lions coach Thom Racine. “He played high level hockey all his life and when we got his rights, he was contemplating quitting hockey…too many chances and too many broken promises had clouded his desire to play.”
“I picked him as our captain this year for two reasons: he wanted to play again this year hoping we could string out the late season success of last year; and as a last year player, he wanted to be the team leader, which I knew he could be. The younger kids look up to Matt, and that is important especially when the middle of the pack respects him.”
“I’ve had many tough decisions over my three seasons, but letting Matt go from our roster at the deadline was very tough. But his health was far more important than a dozen hockey games.”
Matthew says he wants to make young players and their parents aware of the symptoms of a concussion. “They could be denying it after they get hit, or just aren’t aware of what is going on.”
He says that when he was a younger player it wasn’t a big deal and hockey teams didn’t talk about it.
But now, with it getting more attention, he wanted to share his experiences and his symptoms.
Since he hung up his skates in December, Matt continues to show his strong character. He attends as many of the Lions games as he can to support his teammates.
Now feeling good and playing a bit of recreational hockey with friends, he says, “I’ll never have hockey out of my life. For sure, I’ll continue to play recreational hockey in my future.”