Former player, referee Paul Stewart adds name to concussion lawsuit

Ken Campbell
Former NHL referees Paul Stewart (left) and Kerry Fraser (Photo by Andy Marlin/AM Photography/Getty Images)
Former NHL referees Paul Stewart (left) and Kerry Fraser (Photo by Andy Marlin/AM Photography/Getty Images)

Of the 12 names that were added to the NHL’s concussion lawsuit yesterday, the one that stands out the most is that of Paul Stewart, the first American in history to make it to the NHL as both a player and a referee. According to the lawsuit, one of the more gregarious and easy-going personalities in the game, Stewart now suffers from depressive and anxiety disorders, anger, impulse and temper control issues and a loss of memory.

And more importantly, Stewart also has had a brain tumor. Last April, Stewart had a golf-ball sized benign tumor removed from his brain at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He had spent much of the previous three seasons in Russia as a judicial and discipline consultant to the KHL. “When I got home from Russia, I promise you, things were not pleasant,” says Stewart, who turns 62 next month. “At first I thought it was because I was gone so long. I’m better since the surgery, but every day I really have to work at it.”

Stewart played just 21 NHL games for the Quebec Nordiques in 1979-80, but was part of NHL and World Hockey Association organizations from 1976-77 through 1980-81. According to the lawsuit, Stewart suffered at least five concussions during his playing career, “as well as numerous undiagnosed concussions and sub concussive hits to the head, causing him to see stars and bright white lights, and experience wobbly legs and a fuzzy head, all of which were not properly treated.”

Stewart, who is the director of officiating for both the men’s and women’s divisions of the Eastern Collegiate Hockey Association and is co-commissioner of the private school league in Boston, also spent 16 years as an NHL referee. He said he receives a pension of about $19,000 a year and wants to make sure his family is taken care of if his health deteriorates. “I have two children and a family and I gave my life to the game,” Stewart says. “Things are pretty bleak for me.”

Stewart was joined by former NHLer’s Grant Ledyard, Link Gaetz, Doug Barrie, Jack Egers, Dale Purinton, Gary Dillon, Bob Flockhart, Steve Jensen, Shawn Anderson, Nikos Tselios and Mike Robitaille. Here are some of the highlights in the complaint, none of which has been proven in court:

* Ledyard played more than 1,000 NHL games for nine teams and had eight concussions. Among a litany of injuries and incidents, the lawsuit claims that in 1986-87, he was run so hard into the boards by Mark Messier that he broke both his big toes and his helmet cracked, but he played the rest of the game. That same season, he was punched so hard by Jim Peplinski that his helmet broke in two. He was given another helmet and played immediately.

* Egers, who played 284 games over the course of seven seasons, and was diagnosed with one concussion. According the lawsuit, he was elbowed in the head, lost consciousness and was taken to the hospital, but returned to play two days later. “As a result, he has no memory of that season,” the lawsuit claims.

* Purinton, who played 185 games, has suffered at least 10 diagnosed and undiagnosed concussions. It alleges that because of those concussions Purinton, “continues to suffer on a daily basis from depression, anxiety, mood swings, substance abuse (for which he is obtaining treatment), irritability, and impulse control and anger management problems.”

* Flockhart played 55 games in the NHL with two teams (the lawsuit inaccurately states he played 55 games with the Colorado Rockies in 1980-81) and had at least three major concussions. According to the lawsuit, Flockhart hit his head into a goalpost in 1976 and was knocked unconscious. He returned to play 10 days later, “but he was still experiencing headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, memory loss, and nausea.” A few weeks later, he suffered another concussion when he was hit into the boards from behind so hard that his helmet flew off and he lost consciousness. “He was taken into the training room and given smelling salts,” the lawsuit states. “The trainer held up a few fingers and asked Mr. Flockhart how many he could see. He was returned to play. He was experiencing headaches and equilibrium issues.” While playing with the Minnesota North Stars at some point in the 1979-80 or ’80-81 seasons, he was concussed again after being driven into the glass face-first. “He was disoriented and wobbly,” the lawsuit says. “He sustained a facial laceration that required eleven stitches. He was returned to play with the feeling of disorientation, dizziness, and balance issues.”

* Jensen, who played 458 NHL games from 1975-82, had six concussions, five of them from fights, and, “continues to suffer from fits of uncontrollable rage and has extreme difficulty sleeping.”

* Robitialle, who played 382 NHL games over eight seasons, suffered six concussions, plus brain stem and spinal contusions, according to the lawsuit. Robitaille talks about three times in his career when he suffered concussions and was returned to play in the same game without any medical follow up and one occasion where, “he ‘went white’ and couldn’t focus his eyes or his thoughts. He didn’t know names or where he was. This was the first time a doctor ever gave him a neurological test after a concussion. He received instructions to see the doctor the next day if he threw up overnight; otherwise, he was good to go for practice the next day.”