The Buffalo Sabres have announced that forward Kyle Okposo has been diagnosed with a concussion.
The Sabres initially reported on Saturday that the winger did not have a concussion. However, the terrible news was feared on Monday morning, when Sabres coach Phil Housley told the media, “Kyle’s back in Buffalo getting further evaluated.”
The 30-year-old, 12-year veteran has a history of concussions. It’s at least the third one Okposo has suffered since 2017. Two summers ago, he battled a complication from a concussion that resulted in him being admitted to the intensive-care unit.
The Punch That Did It
Okposo squared off with New York Rangers defenseman Anthony DeAngelo last Friday, in the Sabres’ last game of their seven-game homestand. The fight took place 7:51 into the third period of a 6-2 loss after Okposo hit Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello from behind. Though the hit hardly appeared to be worthy of a challenge, DeAngelo immediately came to his teammate’s defense. The two dropped their gloves and jockeyed for position before DeAngelo, 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, connected with a right haymaker that sent Okposo, standing 6 feet, 219 pounds, to the ice. Though he quickly got up, Okposo was steadied by a linesman, then escorted to the team dressing room. He did not return to the ice.
Okposo was cleared to travel and made the trip to New Jersey. He even participated in an optional Sunday morning skate but then skipped the pre-game skate. He knew something wasn’t right and immediately alerted the medical staff. He was sent home to Buffalo before the game against the Devils that night.
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This was only Okposo’s fourth fight of his career, and first with the Sabres. DeAngelo, a first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2014, has only played 71 NHL games. He has one fighting major in a tilt against Riley Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets back in November 2018.
Okposo’s History of Concussions
Okposo was clearly groggy and in a haze after absorbing the punch. Given his concussion history, his health needs to be monitored closely. Housley was asked repeatedly about why he even made the trip to New Jersey. His answers were very sounded very rehearsed and script-like, “[Okposo] was constant contact with our doctors.”
Okposo missed the final two weeks of the 2017-18 season and spent a week in a hospital after sustaining a concussion during what he called a routine hit in practice. He then suffered some complications from medication and landed in the Neuro Intensive Care Unit of a Buffalo hospital. The entire summer was an emotional and physical roller coaster as he worked through the situation.
After returning to the lineup, in March, he sustained another concussion when he collided with Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan, sidelining him for over a week.
Heading into the game against the Devils, Okposo was one of only a handful of players that had not missed a game. Only Rasmus Ristoloainen, Jeff Skinner, Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Dahlin have played in every game. Okposo has 10 goals and 12 assists this season. He’s in the third season of a seven-year, $42-million contract he signed with then-Sabres general manager Tim Murray in 2016.
The loss of Okposo doesn’t help the team, which is barely clinging to hopes of a wild-card slot. The season must go on. It’s expected the Sabres will place Okposo on long-term injured reserve, leaving the team with only 12 healthy forwards and some cap flexibility at the deadline. A call-up from Rochester is anticipated.
Okposo will still get paid his salary, be it through the team’s payroll or via insurance.
Taking Health Seriously
Head issues are not to be taken lightly. For his health and his career, it might be best to shut Okposo down for the remainder of the season. Or worse, forever. While it may be unthinkable to have to walk away from the sport he loves so much, the safest thing for him may be to transition into the next chapter of his life without risking any sort of permanent damage. It’s simply not worth extending a career that puts him at great risk for living a normal, healthy life.
Many players, including Sabres fan favorite Pat LaFontaine, risked their careers to return to the ice following extended time on the sidelines from concussion symptoms only to suffer another one. The cumulative effects of post-concussion syndrome are very real and have been documented by Eric Lindros, Bob Probert and many others. Multiple head injuries can cause cognitive issues down the road, not to mention pain, darkness and suicidal thoughts.
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A decade or so ago, taking a punch like the one Okposo received was referred to as getting one’s bell rung. But now, the long-term health effects have been proven to be permanent.
We join everyone in wishing Okposo a complete recovery. He’s a hardworking, stand-up guy whose health and family are more important than playing hockey. He’s married and has two children–Elliana, a five-year-old girl and a boy–Odin who turns three next month.