Thursday, November 13, 2014

Mumps, Swollen Shins and Revenge of "The Gonk"

With the horrifying and slightly gross news that Anaheim Ducks forward Corey Perry and defenseman Francois Beauchemin have been quarantined by the team and eventually diagnosed with the mumps, it brought to mind something which has all been written out of the hockey player's canon in this generation but was the scourge of many in years past: skin rashes.

Before conical-shaped train-velocity air dryers became the norm for blasting moisture out of gloves, pads and skates, all three were subject to the ravages of nature over time and the endless progression of practices, games and travel packed in tight, moist hockey bags during a hockey season.

Since moisture breeds bacteria in dark, less-ventilated spaces, eventually wearing everything necessary to protect oneself during the course of play became nothing more than a massive petri dish whose contents were ready to strike without warning.

Ron Flockhart's career was derailed by several factors: inability to seek contact in the corners, inability to pass to his wings, inability to stick with one team long enough to establish himself, and perhaps most unfortunate, flare ups of rheumatoid arthritis.

Juts before the midway point of his final full season in Philly, Flockhart -- the third player in franchise history to hail from Smithers, British Columbia following the Watson brothers -- began to be plagued by that mysterious ailment, but was at first able to fight through it and play despite the discomfort. 

The first mention occurred in a December, 1982 syndicated game story about the Flyers' 4-1 home victory against the Stastny brothers and the Quebec Nordiques: "Ron Flockhart, a doubtful starter because of a skin rash, scored two goals to lead the Philadelphia Flyers to a 4-1 victory..."

In late December the following season, Flockhart, now entrenched as a top scorer on the worst team in Pittsburgh Penguins' history, was forced to take an involuntary vacation due to the reappearance of the rash which had spread all through his body. In the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette two days before the calendar flipped to 1984, Flockhart revealed:

"It's very frustrating. My hockey equipment is the real cause of the problem and no doctor can figure out why. I've had the attacks before, but I've never had one as bad as this one or one that lasted as long as this one. There are factors that make it worse. Taking too many showers ... weather changes ... nervousness ..."

From a December, 1979 news item in the Victoria (TX) Advocate:

"In professional hockey, players are itching to find out just what it is that causes a unique rash which many are suffering from. It seems that the rash, known as the 'Gonk' or 'Creeping Crud' plagues hockey players from the junior ranks up to the NHL, but there seems to be no similar ailment around other sports. 

At least one other player was forced to retire because of it. There are as many theories as victims of the rash, which causes skin to break open and a sticky pus to form. Some think it's the dye in the uniforms, the strenuous activity of the players, or even might be from psychological reasons. No one's found a definite cure, but one Chicago player lost all signs of the ailment after signing a lucrative contract with the Black Hawks while silk pajamas helped another player in Montreal."

That player whose career was ended, was Tom Reid of the Minnesota North Stars. Continued, from an April, 1979 article in the Eugene Register-Guard, Reid related the following:

"About three years ago, I started getting it on my hands. I went to every doctor, every skin specialist and every clinic possible, but it never got better, just worse. Sores broke out all over my body, and fluid came out, sticking to anything I was wearing. When I moved, it tore the skin off. It was so painful I couldn't sleep. I tried sleeping with nothing on or in a wooden chair but that was no way to live."

The affliction didn't escape from a former NHLer who made the bones of his career in Philadelphia and remains here as a television analyst, but who suffered from the skin disease with a now defunct franchise: "Bill Clement and I had it real bad in Atlanta," said then-Kings defenseman Randy Manery in the same story. "We literally had to peel ourselves out of bed in the morning. We were soaking wet and sticking to the sheets."

Clement tried the silk pajama route like the above-mentioned Canadiens player -- Jacques Lemaire -- but it didn't ease the pain or lessen the blotchiness. 

Though he was little more than a footnote in a down cycle in team history, Norm Lacombe succumbed to something similar to the Gonk, which ultimately ended his career.

Acquired from the Edmonton Oilers in January of 1990 for future considerations, Lacombe was forced to exit the lineup multiple times through the end of that season when his lower extremities became irritated after physical exertion. Although he managed to participate in 71 games the following season for head coach Paul Holmgren, Lacombe's ailment was eventually diagnosed as chronic exertional compartment syndrome, a condition causing intense pain and irritation in the shins after playing or practicing. 

More recently, in January of 2003 Leafs forward Mikael Renberg had to be sidelined and undergo serious anitbiotic treatment in hospital after bacteria lurking in one of his gloves infected a burst blister to the point where he reached a 104-degree fever and talk about losing the hand altogether was broached. 

*        *        * 

In Perry's case, he's finally about ready to return to action after missing four games. He managed to skate on Thursday, but before the rest of the team followed for a morning session. 

“I had the swollen jaw and the swelling in my face that led to headaches,” said Perry, the NHL's leading goal scorer before the illness struck. “I had the body aches and fever, too. Those things weren’t fun. I’ve learned more in the last week about it, but there’s really no medicine for it. Sometimes the booster helps and sometimes it doesn’t, and vaccinations don’t always work. I had my shots as a kid.

"I had no energy to do anything,” Perry added. “My day consisted of the doctor coming in at seven o’clock in the morning, looking at me and then taking off, me going back to sleep, and then the doctor coming back in to draw blood.”

“I didn’t know how to react. My first though was how contagious is this? You hear about it when you’re a kid, but I haven’t had to think of the mumps for an awful long time," said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. "Our training staff and doctors did a tremendous job isolating it and making sure it didn’t spread any more than it did."

Not so fast, Bruce.

According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Wild players Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin have shown the same symptoms that defensemen Keith Ballard and Christian Folin displayed earlier in the year which sidelined them shortly after a West Coast sojourn took the club to Anaheim and Los Angeles. In addition, linesman Steve Miller and referee Eric Furlatt were both stricken after performing their respective duties in SoCal earlier this year.

Lucky for the Ducks, nobody else has come forward with symptoms ... for now. Incubation time from first exposure to presentation of symptoms for a mumps-like illness is roughly 16-18 days, which means Buffalo, Columbus and San Jose appear to be in the clear. The Islanders, Vancouver and Arizona are on notice.
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