Reggie Fleming, a former NHL player who died in July at age 73, had brain damage due to repeated head trauma, linking hockey for the first time to a condition usually found in boxers, the New York Times reported Friday.
Fleming, who spent 12 seasons in the NHL, was found by Boston University researchers to have had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a disease that causes cognitive decline, behavioural abnormalities and ultimately dementia, the Times said.
Fleming is the first hockey player known to have been tested for the disease, which was also found in several former NFL players recently.
"Boxing we've known for a long time, football we've recently become aware of — now hockey," Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at Boston University who also diagnosed CTE in the former football players, told the newspaper. "Repetitive head injuries can have very serious long-term consequences, regardless of how you get them."
Deputy NHL commissioner Bill Daly told the Times the league would have no comment until it had a chance to review the report.
Fleming had 108 goals, 132 assists and 1,468 penalty minutes in 749 career games with the Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres.
He helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 1961 and also spent two seasons with the now-defunct World Hockey Association's Chicago Cougars.