The worst thing about being a professional athlete is they are rarely allowed to quit the game when they want.
Before Wednesday night's game against Reading, the Fort Wayne Komets signed rookie defenseman Mathieu Gagnon. The real news is that to make roster room for Gagnon they placed center Colin Chaulk on the 21-day injured reserve list, essentially ending the veteran's season.
And potentially his career.
For the last two months, Chaulk, 36, has been experiencing problems with his brachial plexus, a network of nerves through his neck which is affecting his left arm, which he estimates is at 50 percent strength.
Yesterday, he picked up a 10-inch piece of aluminum eaves trough but could not hold it in his left hand. Picking up one of his two daughters, taking out the trash or bringing in the groceries all have to be done with his right arm.
``Washing my hair feels like I've done 20 shoulder presses,'' Chaulk said. ``The nerves just aren't firing. I definitely know I can't play hockey like this. It's a little bit frightening, but we're going to get to the bottom of this.''
The condition affects the phrenic nerve which also gives him trouble breathing. Whenever Chaulk takes a deep breath, he experiences pain on his right side. He can hold a stick in his right hand to practice or coach, but playing in a game he's robbed of his precision, power and endurance.
On Monday, Chaulk will meet with a neurologist to continue the process of diagnosis.
He finishes his 10th season in Fort Wayne and 15th season as a pro with 22 points in 28 games. He's missed 44 games this year with a foot infection which led to the current nerve problems. He felt good enough to play six games earlier this month but was knocked out of the March 9 game against Florida with a groin strain.
``After taking three or four games off, I was sluggish,'' Chaulk said. ``Then things didn't seem to be getting any better. I ended up taking a couple of really bad hits that I normally would have been able to avoid because I wouldn't have been in those situations. I was putting myself at risk for other injuries.''
If this is the end of Chaulk's amazing career. he finishes in Fort Wayne with 578 games, 184 goals and 684 points. He's third behind Len Thornson and Eddie Long on the Komets' franchise list for career points, and seventh in games played. Chaulk recently became the 70th player to score 1,000 points in his minor league career.
More importantly, he's been the key leader on five Fort Wayne title teams, one of the first players to receive the cup in 2003, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012 to begin the celebrations. No Komet and very few minor league players have ever won so much.
Chaulk continued on the bench last night as Al Sims' assistant coach and already knows he wants to be a head coach.
``I wanted to wait for the season to finish to make a decision,'' he said. ``The first thing is I need to see if I'm healthy and where that's at. I want to be fair to the Komets first and talk to them and see what they want to do. If it stays like this there's no way I can possibly play. and that makes the decision for you.''
As hundreds of Fort Wayne youth hockey players know, Chaulk has always had as much passion for coaching as he has for playing. He feels confident he can get a professional coaching job, but he'll sit down with Komets General Manager David Franke after the season to see with the team suggests.
``The Komets have always been great to me and I'm not worried about that,'' he said. ``If I wanted to stay on as an assistant coach I'm sure they'd be good with that.
``It's amazing how things work out sometimes. When your body is telling you you can't do it, you realize how good you've had it.''