Eric Ringel: Notre Dame Hockey Defenseman Overcomes a Career Cut Short

Kelly TaylorContributor IMarch 29, 2011

DENVER - APRIL 12:  The Notre Dame Fighting Irish salute as they leave the ice after being defeated by the Boston College Golden Eagles in the 2008 NCAA Frozen Four Men's Ice Hockey National Championship at the Pepsi Center on April 12, 2008 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

One hit.

That’s all it took to end Eric Ringel’s hockey career.

However, he refused to settle for a career cut short.

Ringel, a former University of Notre Dame defenseman, suffered a concussion last season after a Dec. 5, 2009 game against Miami of Ohio.

That first quarter was the last that Ringel would play for the Irish.

After being forced to retire, Head Coach Jeff Jackson asked Ringel if he still wanted to be a part of the team. Ringel is now in the midst of his first season with the Notre Dame coaching staff as an undergraduate student assistant coach.

Ringel’s injury occurred during normal play.

“Their captain came from behind and hit me,” he said. “My head ran into the boards and I remember getting up and thinking I didn’t feel right.”

Ringel sat out for the entirety of the second game and returned home on the bus with the team.

“Everything was out of focus on the way home,” he said.

The trainers instructed Ringel to take a few days off and see how he felt; however, it was a full two weeks before he felt normal.

“I had trouble putting sentences together and my short-term memory was gone,” he said. “I couldn’t listen to music, couldn’t watch TV and couldn’t really do anything.”

These problems were only the beginning of Ringel’s post-concussion symptoms. A doctor medically excused Ringel from his academic classes, however, the Hinckley, Ohio native attended in hopes of passing his finals.

“I still went to all my classes, tried to be there and take my finals, but it didn’t turn out so well,” he said.

Ringel was shut down from any physical activity for five months. Physicians put him on an antidepressant to try and suppress the headaches, which finally ceased in April.

Ringel then decided to embark on an intense bike ride to test his limits.

“I knew if I couldn’t push myself, I wasn’t going to be able to play,” he said. “I got a debilitating headache just from pushing myself on the ride.”

Ringel finally began to understand the severity of his situation.

When doctors officially failed to clear him in July, Ringel claimed he was already at that conclusion.

“After seeing specialists, taking all the medications and all the headaches, by the time the decision was made, it was a relief,” he said.

According to Ringel, transitioning from player to coach entailed some emotional hardship. He didn’t know of his official medical status until the end of July. He came to summer school in hopes of preparing for the season free of symptoms, but that wasn’t the case.

“On picture day, everyone was putting their jerseys on and it hit me that I wasn’t actually playing,” he said.

“I’ve been playing hockey for 13 years of my life so it’s kind of a weird change.”

In regards to his new role on the team, Ringel sought advice from the seniors prior to accepting the coaching position.

“I wanted to be around, but I didn’t know if anyone would take me seriously,” he said.

Luckily, Ringel said he received full support from his former teammates. He contributes on a daily basis, attending all training sessions, practices and games and traveling with the team.

“After signing on, I was at 6 a.m. lift the next day,” he said. “They are a great bunch of guys and they’re really understanding. They try to include me in everything and it feels like I haven’t really missed a beat.”

Fortunately, Ringel hasn’t lost that feeling of camaraderie.

“The thing that I would have missed the most is being a part of a team,” he said. “But with my position now, it still allows me to do that, and the transition hasn’t been as rough as I thought it would be.”

With regard to coaching perks, Ringel appreciates his new role. Most notably, he points to watching the early morning lifting sessions as opposed to participating.

“I can get away with a lot more,” he said. “I can be a couple of minutes late here and there.”

Despite his sacrifices, Ringel realizes the importance of his health and well being.

“After struggling to put sentences together, I know how much I don’t want to go back to that,” he said. “This is the best alternative and I’m just going with it.”

A finance major in the Mendoza College of Business with a minor in anthropology, Ringel is entirely thankful for choosing Notre Dame.

“Going through the recruiting process, I wanted the best of both worlds,” he said. “Out of the schools that were recruiting me, ND was miles above in education. If something were to happen, I had a Notre Dame education to fall back on.”

Although his injury did impede Ringel’s athletic career, his coaching career is now prospering with the Fighting Irish.

The Notre Dame squad will compete in the Frozen Four in St. Paul, Minn., on April 7.

Kelly Taylor is a Media Relations student assistant at Notre Dame.  All quotes were obtained through interviews conducted in October of 2010.