Jarrod Maidens, former Senators prospect, leaves hockey for homework
Maidens, 20, suffered a career-ending concussion during an OHL game in November 2011
Ottawa Senators prospect Jarrod Maidens was ready to do whatever it took to be an NHL player, but post-concussion symptoms derailed that plan and continue to affect his everyday life.
In November 2011, Maidens was a forward for the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League when he suffered a concussion in an on-ice collision. Then 17 years old, a quick recovery was the only thing on his mind.
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He never thought that would be his last competitive hockey game.
"I sat out for a year, almost a year and a half probably after the injury, not doing much and I noticed that it wasn't completely gone away," Maidens told CBC News from his home in Ridgeway, Ont., near Niagara Falls.
While out, he worked with the Senators' medical staff and concussion specialists seeking a solution, but nothing seemed to work.
"Ottawa was helping me when I was up there just slowly, gradually increasing exercise so that I could hopefully one day get back to 100 per cent, but it seems like it stuck from getting to a 100 per cent level," he said.
Maidens, who turns 21 in March, has returned to live at his parents' home. He also teaches at his dad's hockey school, Sure Shot Hockey Development, once or twice a week.
Maidens says he continues to suffer from recurring, severe headaches almost daily. He admits he's frustrated there isn't a clear explanation as to why that is still happening.
"It's not like being dizzy where I have to lay down or wanting to throw up from nausea or anything like that, so it's just the headaches," he said.
"It seems like it is the increased activity level that can bring that on more with the heart rate, or certain things that maybe will affect my neck because it seems like the neck still does give me issues a bit."
'Worth the gamble'
The Sens drafted Maidens in the third round, 82nd overall in 2012, despite the fact he only played in 28 games the previous year due to his concussion.
Senators' assistant coach Mark Reeds also coached Maidens in Owen Sound during the 2010-11 season, so the team had done its homework.
"We thought we got a real bargain there and it was worth the gamble," Lee said, "He really is a good person that we thought: 'Wow, let's help this guy get through this.'"
Lee said he formed a close bond with Maidens as the prospect underwent treatment and worked hard off the ice so he could play again, including during Ottawa's 2012 rookie development camp.
"You could see how skilled he was. He'd come to our camps and he'd work in the background … He just wasn't cleared to go on the ice. And when he did get clearance to go on the ice in certain situations, you could just see the joy on his face," Lee said.
Maidens's last effort to reach the NHL came in August 2013 during training camp with Owen Sound. But just days in, the headaches came back and Maidens returned home.
Last summer, the Senators chose not to offer Maidens a contract before the deadline, which was two years after he was drafted. That's because Maidens was honest with Ottawa, telling them progress had halted.
"I did reach out to the league, just to see if there was any special provision for a player in his circumstance who hasn't played for two years and they said, 'No there's not,'" Lee said.
"I even held out hope down the road, maybe if he did feel healthier at some point, that we would get back together and bring him back on a tryout or whatever, some sort of vehicle to get him back."
'Door slowly shuts more and more'
Maidens continues to play pick-up hockey with his buddies about once a week, but the headaches return if he pushes himself too hard.
His hockey dreams no longer rest on the ice as he tries to live a life void of constant headaches.
"It's hard to fully say the dream of playing is gone but … as time goes on it seems like the door slowly shuts more and more," he said.
"But if there was an opportunity to get back in that field, maybe not as a player but doing something maybe behind the scenes or part of management, that would be nice."
Maidens has come to terms with his injury.
"Hockey was what defined me. It was kind of everything. So when I had the injury, I was just really humbled through that. I realized that there was more to life than hockey and I'm not defined by that," he said.
"I've just grown so much as a person that way and I'm grateful for that."