NORTH BAY, Ont. – Luke Burghardt’s hockey career, which he declared over on Thursday, appears dependent on a medical specialist’s advice, possibly leaving the North Bay Battalion without its second-ranked scorer of last season.
After a spinal condition was discovered through an MRI exam at the summer development camp of the National Hockey League’s Vegas Golden Knights in July, left winger Burghardt announced via Instagram that his Ontario Hockey League playing days were at an end.
Burghardt, a Bowmanville, Ont., resident who turned 20 on May 12, joined the Battalion in a June 27, 2017, trade with the Guelph Storm and erupted for 28 goals and a team-leading 43 assists for 71 points in 68 games with North Bay. He played the full season with right winger Justin Brazeau and, from early January, with centre Matthew Struthers, obtained in a trade with the Owen Sound Attack.
“We knew earlier in the summer that he went to the Las Vegas camp and was not cleared to go on the ice,” Stan Butler, Battalion director of hockey operations and head coach, said Friday, two days before the opening of the OHL club’s training camp.
“At that time we spoke to his agent and to Luke, and they said they were going through a bunch of tests but they thought everything would be fine. Then yesterday, out of the blue, quite frankly, the first time I heard about it was on Instagram, that he had seen another specialist and the doctor said it was not in his best interests to play hockey anymore, based on he’s got problems with his spine.
“He is going, I believe, to see another doctor this week, but as of now I don’t think it would be wise for Luke to be playing hockey because, obviously, it jeopardizes his longterm health and that obviously is a huge concern in a situation like this.”
Butler said he didn’t know whether the prognosis might change, permitting Burghardt to return to action.
“I took a look at the X-ray, but from I could see from my four years of university anatomy would be that it didn’t look very good.”
Burghardt, acquired with left winger Luke Moncada for Zach Poirier, who played centre and right wing, and defenceman Mark Shoemaker, was a sixth-round pick by Guelph in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection from the Clarington Toros minor midgets. In three seasons with the Storm, he scored 27 goals and earned 31 assists for 58 points in 170 games.
“He had a breakout season,” Butler noted of Burghardt’s 2017-18 campaign. “What he did last year he never really accomplished in the league before.
“I think he was extremely comfortable here, and the line of Struthers, Brazeau and Burghardt turned into an outstanding line for us. It definitely gave us a top line in the league, which we all know is really, really important.”
But Butler acknowledged that the player’s health comes first.
“In Luke’s case you can’t fool around with this type of stuff, and nobody would want to play hockey more than Luke.”
If Burghardt can’t continue, the Battalion will have two overage candidates to open camp, in Brazeau and centre Kyle Potts. The other 1998-born skater to finish the season with the club last spring was import defenceman Adam Thilander, who has signed to play professionally in his native Sweden. The league limit for overagers is three in any game.
“We’ve already had discussions with teams and we’re looking at different options,” said Butler. “Our goal to start the year was two forwards and one (defenceman).
“I probably will go with the same thing, depending on how our forwards look, but it also gives us the opportunity, if Luke’s hockey’s over, that we could go with two D and one forward, so we have our options. The one thing I can say on the record is we won’t be using a goalie spot for an overager.”
Julian Sime, who turned 20 on March 13, backed up No. 1 goaltender Christian Propp in the second half last season but will not be back.
Camp opens with fitness testing and medicals Sunday before Green and White practices followed by an intrasquad game at Memorial Gardens at 4 p.m. Monday.
There are intrasquad games at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesday, and camp ends after a fourth intrasquad game at 9 a.m. Wednesday. All games are open to the public without charge.