Bryce Salvador retires after dizziness hell.

Devils captain Bryce Salvador retires after dizziness ‘hell’



Bryce Salvador once called the rehab from his injury “hell,” and in a gripping retirement announcement, it doesn’t sound far off.

The former Devils captain called it a career Wednesday, announcing his retirement in a revealing and heartfelt article published on the Players’ Tribune.

“I achieved my goal of coming back so that my boys would be able to remember me as an NHL player,” Salvador wrote, “and now I am content to step away on my own terms.”

Salvador, 39, was named the Devils captain in January 2012, after Zach Parise left to sign a free-agent deal with his hometown Wild. Yet Salvador was slowed to just 15 games last season due to a back injury, and 94 games over the past three.

But that is hardly the worst of it.

At the end of the 2009-10 season, Salvador took a puck to the face with 53 seconds left in a game, likely the cause of an inner-ear concussion. He finished that season, but during the next preseason, he took a punch in the helmet and fell down, knowing something was very wrong.

He took a shoulder to the chin soon thereafter, and was diagnosed with another concussion. Doctors couldn’t figure out why the symptoms weren’t completely going away.

Salvador missed the entire 2010-11 season, seeing specialist after specialist, including an entire month at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in New Jersey. Eventually, he stopped going because his recovery had plateaued. He became temperamental with his family, including his two boys, ages 4 and 1. He didn’t like noise or light. He couldn’t drive at night. He couldn’t deal with social situations.

At the urging of his wife, Salvador decided to try to get better again. He went to see then-general manager Lou Lamoriello — who has since moved on to take that same job with the Maple Leafs — and Lamoriello told him to do whatever he needed to get better.

“Lou,” Salvador wrote, “thank you.”

Salvador ended up in the office of Dr. James Kelly, whom he said was a military doctor who sees civilian patients only one day a month. Dr. Kelly told him his vestibular system was out of whack, but it could be fixed; he had seen worse in soldiers coming back from war.

“That’s the moment I stopped feeling frustrated and sorry for myself,” Salvador wrote. “At the very least, I finally had an answer.”

Salvador spent the whole season rehabbing, which consisted of some childhood pastimes — running with his eyes closed; bouncing on a trampoline while calling out shapes and colors; spinning in an office chair to see how long it would take to recovery from being dizzy. A normal person needs 10 seconds, and at first, it took Salvador almost a minute.

Eventually, when Salvador spun around in the chair and needed just the normal 10 seconds to recover, “I thought I was going to start crying,” he said.

He told Lamoriello he was going to return for the 2011-12 season, and he got a fair shake in training camp. He became a reliable stay-at-home defenseman, playing all 82 regular-season games and leading the Devils past the Rangers in the conference final.

They lost to the Kings in six games in the Stanley Cup final, but at Game 1 in New Jersey, Salvador’s two sons got to see what their dad did for a living, and they were finally old enough to understand.

It was a long ride from his childhood in Manitoba, to getting drafted by the Lightning in the sixth round in 1994, then playing parts of seven seasons with the Blues before being traded to the Devils in 2008 in exchange for fourth-line grinder Cam Janssen.

Salvador and his family are staying in New Jersey, and he plans to work with the Devils and local hockey organizations to “spread access to the game for everyone.” It’s something he couldn’t be happier to be able to do.

“After I was drafted, an NHL scout told me, ‘Salvador, you’re never going to make it. Too slow, too soft. You’ll never play a game in the NHL,’” he wrote. “Here I am, 786 regular-season and 74 playoff games later, retiring as a captain. No matter what anybody says, they can’t take this away from me:

“I played in the freaking NHL. It’s enough to make you dizzy.”

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