Oct. 27, 2010
By Kelly Taylor, Media Relations Student Assistant
Career-ending injuries usually take players out of the game forever. For Notre Dame hockey player Eric Ringel, that was an option that he refused to accept.
Ringel, then a sophomore defenseman for the Irish hockey team, suffered a concussion during the 2009-10 season that would have an impact on not only his career, but also his life. It all happened in the first period of the December 4 game versus CCHA rival, Miami of Ohio. In the end, it would be the final period that Ringel would play at Notre Dame.
Now a junior, Ringel recalls the injury happening during a normal play.
“Their captain came from behind and hit me,” says Ringel. “My head ran into the boards and I remember getting up and thinking I didn’t feel right.”
He sat out the remainder of that game and missed the entire second game of the series before returning home on the bus with the team.
“Everything was out of focus on the way home,” he recalls. The team trainer instructed Ringel to take a few days off and see how he felt. However, it was two weeks before he felt normal.
“I had trouble putting sentences together and my short-term memory was gone,” he says.
“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 syndrome 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 admits.
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 went away 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 says. “I got a debilitating headache just from pushing myself on the ride.”
Defenseman Eric Ringel played two seasons on the Notre Dame blue line.
Ringel finally began to understand the severity of the situation. When doctors officially failed to clear him in July, Ringel claims 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 admits.
Giving up a game that he had played for a majority of his life was going to be tough but that’s when Irish head coach Jeff Jackson stepped in. Jackson approached Ringel and asked if he still wanted to be part of the team in a coaching capacity. And now the former Irish defenseman is a member of the coaching staff as an undergraduate student assistant coach for the 2010-11 season.
Transitioning from player to coach entails some emotional hardship. Ringel 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 it and hit me that I’m not actually playing. I’ve been playing hockey for 13 years of my life so it’s kind of a weird change. In terms of time commitment and schedule, it’s the exact same as the last two years so that hasn’t really been hard to adjust to,” he states.
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 says. Luckily, Ringel received the full support from his teammates.
Ringel contributes on a daily basis, attending all training sessions, practices and games and travels with the team.
“After signing on, I was at 6 a.m. lift the next day,” he says. “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 says. “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.”
As far as perks go, Ringel claims there aren’t many with a couple of exceptions.
“I can get away with a lot more,” he says. “I can be a couple of minutes late here and there.” Most notably, he points to watching the early morning lifting sessions as opposed to participating. That is certainly a predictable perk.
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 says. “I don’t want to put myself in that situation. This is the best alternative and I’m just going with it.”
In regards to Notre Dame hockey in general, Ringel notes the superior alumni connection. Former upperclassmen that entered the NHL even checked up on him following his concussion. “All those guys still keep in touch, and it’s great how everyone is really close,” he says.
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 says. “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 something did in fact impede Ringel’s hockey career, he will have that Notre Dame education to fall back on and just maybe the start of a promising coaching career.