Tremors of shock are hitting the hockey world today as the news squeaks out that Stefan Legein, a second-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2007, is quitting hockey.
The stunning development was originally reported by the Columbus Dispatch and has now been confirmed by Jackets general manager Scott Howson.
Legein was a key player on the Canadian world junior squad that won its fourth straight gold medal last January; the right winger also helped the team to victory in last fall's Super Series against Russia.
Why would a 19-year-old with a very bright future suddenly quit the game for which he had such passion? There are no clear answers yet; only a thick cloud of fog.
Legein is an agitator of the first degree who has no trouble putting the puck in the net. He was a constant presence on Team Canada's second line and also put up over a point per game in his last two seasons with the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL.
But Legein's trademark was the thundering body check. He took every opportunity to pound an opponent into the boards (and into next week) and didn't shy away from fisticuffs. In short, he was an easy player to like.
A quick viewing of any game from last year's world junior reveals a kid who simply loves the game.
Or used to.
The details of Legein's premature retirement remain sketchy, but according to the Dispatch, the Jackets have been told that Legein has "lost the passion" he formerly held for the game.
Aaron Portzline at the Dispatch writes that Legein wasn't the same player last season after returning from the shoulder injury he suffered at the WJC. Portzline says Legein did not get along with his IceDog teammates late in the season—if true, a shocking turn for a player who has always been very popular in the locker room—and left the Syracuse Crunch after two playoff games to start training for the 2008-09 season.
As Portzline asks, who wants to work out instead of competing in the playoffs? Very strange indeed.
Then, at Jackets prospect camp, Legein looked lackluster. As one of the team's most promising prospects, it would be reasonable to expect him to stand out, right?
One final twist: when asked about their son's alleged retirement Tuesday evening, Legein's parents said they knew nothing about it.
It's possible they just didn't feel like talking, but what if Legein never told them? That doesn't sound like the Stefan Legein that Canadian hockey fans have come to know and love.
So, how do you lose your passion for hockey? Maybe it was the pressure to succeed, which can be unbearable for a teenager. But that doesn't seem likely, as Legein had already achieved a degree of success with Team Canada that most players can only dream about. And the Columbus media certainly does not provide the fishbowl atmosphere of Toronto or Montreal.
Sometimes young players hang 'em up when they realize they won't get enough ice time to justify riding the buses over getting an education. But that can't be it either. Legein was a bonafide NHL prospect.
Perhaps there was a major change in his life or some sort of family tragedy. Maybe his parents pushed him too hard. Clearly, whatever has led hard-hitting, fun-loving Stefan Legein to such a 180-degree turnaround is something that has yet to see the light of day.
Calgary's Daniel Ryder pulled a similar cut-and-retire routine last year, only to return to this year's training camp.
Let's hope Legein does the same. Otherwise, the Jackets and the hockey world are missing out on a heck of a player, and the kid Canada fell in love with is missing out on a heck of a career.
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