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Todd McIlrath – A Cautionary Story That Hopefully Leads To Redemption

It was late Thursday night when I received an email from a friend of mine with a link to this story.  Sticks, Chicks and Dirty Mitts: Todd McIlrath and his Dark Side of Hockey  In his email he said he cried when reading the story.  Little did I know it concerned a former employee, friend, and someone I thought was doing well in life.

Unfortunately when reading the story, things really hit home.

I first met Todd McIlrath in the fall of 2009.  At that time I was part owner and General Manager of the Battle Creek Revolution in the AAHL.

I first received a phone call on a Sunday night from some kid I didn’t know and hadn’t heard of telling me he was coming in for a skate the next day.  I thought he had a lot of nerve and told him I would have to run it by our coach.

Sure enough, he showed up the next day, and told the coach he was there to try out.  The coach new him and let him skate.  Good thing too because he turned out to be one hell of a player for us.  He struck me as a cocky young kid, but he was always one of the most polite and respectful young players I met that year.

While there were stories of hard partying, there was never an accusation of drug use.  Not much a GM can say to a player who is of age, partys hard, but still produces.  It was after all single A pro, and the boys were living the dream.  The only thing I or the coach could do was to caution him about how it may hurt him if he wanted to move up.

That said, man this kid was talented.  I had no idea what he was doing in Battle Creek.  But I soon heard the rumors and he soon came into my office to talk about things.

A few months went by and I was bought out of the team from my partners so I could focus on player representation.  Todd McIlrath was the first player to come in to my office and shake my hand during that very hard decision making time.  He showed maturity I didn’t expect, and a level of understanding of what it meant to leave a team I surely didn’t understand at that time.

It was less than a year later when our paths crossed again.

Todd had blown out his knee in his first call up game in the ECHL.  He was rehabbing and was looking for work.  At the time I was in a position of owning a independent junior team and needed a coach.  We spoke, and he was tabbed as the man for the job.

The summer went by and Todd recruited a very talented team from across the country.  He took them too the Chowder Cup, ran some great summer camps and things looked to be coming together nicely.  Until I got a call on a Saturday morning.

That morning, I was told about parties, and out of control behavior.

Off I went to visit with Todd.  After meeting with him and other community leaders, he was put on probation, and stiffly fined.  Believing that would teach a lesson, the season moved on.

As we approached our first home game, all seemed to be going well again.  Opening night was a huge success with over 1000 people attending, and a respectable outing against a very good ACHA D-1 team.  We broke for the weekend to return on Tuesday.

Tuesday, an hour before practice Todd walked into my office having returned from Bowling Green visiting his friends at school.  It was then, in my office the bottom dropped out for me.  Todd informed me he had picked up some cocaine and asked if I wanted to do some with him.  I said we would talk later and he left the office.

I was shocked, and he had to be let go.  One game into the season and I had to fire my coach.  It simply sucked.

Fast forward a year, and I ran into Todd at a game he was coaching, and he looked well.  We spoke, and I wished him continued success.  On the surface everything appeared to be going well for him.

I heard he got married some time later, and that he was building a family.  It was good news, and I was definitely happy for him.

Then I get this email.  I read this story, and I sit dumbfounded.  It is sad beyond belief to see such a talent wasting away.  Even sadder now to read how his life has spiraled out of control.

Every player and parent should read this story.  Every player and parent should come away with the ability to identify the warning signs.

While its been two years since I spoke to Todd, I still have hope for him.  Telling this kind of story publicly is hard for any person.  Yet, because he has, he shows that he does have some inner strength left.  He can still make an impact to improve other peoples lives and not just on the ice.

Addiction and mental health issues are serious issues that should never be swept under the rug.  Far too often we forget about the real life challenges of people, athletes or not.  Lets hope that this story allows someone to see another person who is struggling with one of these issues, and leads them to seek help.

In the interim, I hope all of you who read this keep Todd in your thoughts.

Joseph Kolodziej – Publisher

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