Cody McCormick has fought countless battles over his 10 plus years in the National Hockey League. But the one he’s fighting now is by far his toughest.
”I didn't want to finish like that. If my career is over I didn't want to have somebody tell me because of this,” said the Sabres forward. “Mentally for a hockey player, coming away from the game - that's the hardest.”
McCormick, 32, hasn't been allowed to play or practice with his team for almost a year. It was last January when the game of hockey almost took his life.
“We were on a road trip. I blocked a shot with my foot. Then we played another game and I had calf pain. Then played a couple games with it, got hit in Tampa, came to the rink the next day with my daughter, we skated,” said McCormick. “I was here for physio. They sent me to the hospital, did a couple tests, they found the blood clots in my lungs and they think it originated in my calf.”
It was a brush with death for McCormick. He was immediately put on blood thinners, and he's still taking them today. For a grinding, gritty role player like him, that medication has kept his game on hold. It's something he wrestles with in his mind every day. He's had his share of low moments. His lowest:
“A doctor telling me it wouldn't be a good idea to play again. That was a month before training camp. After training and you have a focus, and everything is starting to build up, and you have these new players coming in, and there's excitement in town and you're told you shouldn't be a part of it for your medication and your medical needs. That was pretty tough.”
On injured reserve since September, McCormick is now limited to just helping other rehabbing teammates like Tyler Ennis.
Said Ennis, “I feel for him. It's tough because he's such a competitor and he fights through every injury. He fights a lot in games and he's a warrior.”
Now that competitor, that warrior, is at a crossroads. Continue exploring ways to possibly continue his career or retire. That’s something McCormick says has crossed his mind.
Said McCormick, “It's not a good thing to think about. It's something I have to think about. You don't want your kids to see you in a hospital room. But then you're staying up late watching the team on the ice, and you'd do anything to be back out there with them. But obviously family is the most important thing to anybody.”
Because of his illness McCormick is now spending much more time at his home in Clarence being a husband and a dad to his three young kids.
“Just to stop doing what he's known his whole life is very difficult for him,” said his wife Alyssa as their 2-year-old daughter Ava jumped into Cody’s lap. “But it's difficult for me to see him put his life at risk for, you know… what's more important?
There's no question Cody and Alyssa know the answer to that question during this special time of year.
“It's been really nice to have him home to help us put up the Christmas tree and do the lights,” she said.
“The buildup to Christmas this year - you enjoy it a lot more than we have before,” he said.
And this year's Christmas gift to Cody McCormick doesn't come inside a box or a card. It's a lesson he's learned the hard way.
“Don't take anything for granted,” he advised. “The game of hockey can come and go pretty quick. I didn't see it coming.”
Follow Shawn Stepner on Twitter: @StepnerWKBW
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