Former Leafs enforcer and advocate for retired NHLers, Kurt Walker, dead at 64
August 18, 2018
August 18, 2018 12:15 PM EDT
Kurt Walker, former Toronto Maple Leafs enforcer and advocate for NHL players struggling with retirement, is dead at 64. (dignityafterhockey.ca)
Kurt Walker, who transformed from hard-knuckle Maple Leaf to a compassionate advocate for NHL players struggling with retirement, has passed away.
The 64-year-old Massachusetts native died Friday night after a brief illness. Many players who benefitted from his Dignity After Hockey charity weighed in with tributes, as did those who simply admired him for taking on such a difficult task.
Walker’s efforts began nearly a decade ago with a web page and from there he was able to open doors to affordable health care and later, stem cell research.
Walker and his associates were also heavily involved in concussion research and its affects on retired players. He was often at odds with the NHL and the players alumni association to get more done for ex-players and raise money for the cause.
“When you’re young, you feel invincible,” Walker recently told journalist Josh Kloke. “You think you can do whatever you want and nothing will bother you. I sustained more injuries than most players. But at that age you never think about the ramifications of after the game.”
“I remember getting a few head shots, going to the bench, and the trainer would talk to you and you’d be in a fog,” he recalled. “You’d get a little smelling salt, take a bit of a rest but there was still so much peer pressure.”
Walker played 71 games for Toronto and was part of the rough and tumble playoff series against the Flyers and Islanders in the mid 1970s.
“Gerry McNamara saw a few of (his minor league games) where I acted up and invited me to training camp,” Walker recalled in an interview with ISN last year. “I wanted to play for them my whole life. That’s who I told people I was going to play for when I was 14.”
“My dream was to play 12 to 15 to minutes a night, but I found most of my time I was sitting on the bench getting one or two shifts, he said. “But through all of that, I never forgot what got me there.”
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