By Tim Rosenthal, Bruins Daily
Since departing from the Boston Bruins and signing with the Columbus Blue Jackets in July of 2013, Nathan Horton’s career has taken a wrong turn.
A wrong turn that Horton, nor anyone, could envision.
At 29 years old, the former Bruin is faced with a tough decision. Last month, Blue Jackets beat writer Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch reported that Horton could be faced with career-ending back surgery. Portzline also reported that the surgery is viewed as a “last resort.”
In an emotional and revealing article published by Portzline one week ago, Horton discussed his potential career ending surgery, while also mentioning about his aches and pains he endures on a daily basis.
“I can’t stand up like a normal person; I can’t bend over,” Horton told Portzline in an exclusive interview. “I can’t run. I can’t play with my kids. To get in and out of the car, I’m like a 75-year-old man … so slow and stiff. I can’t sleep at night. I try to lay down and my back seizes up and I can’t move, so sleeping is out. I’m like a zombie in the daytime.”
Horton’s former teammates are well aware of his condition, and the difficult decision that lies ahead.
David Krejci centered Horton on the first line for his three seasons with the Black and Gold. He saw a skilled player with the heart of a warrior on the ice. Off the ice, Krejci noticed a person who was humble and easy to get along with.
But even Krejci knows he can’t give Horton too much advice in handling his decision.
“He’s a good friend. He’s going through some tough times,” said Krejci. “I don’t want to give him too much, it’s his own life.
“You obviously feel for the guy. He’s a really good player and a good friend as well. It must be tough for him, but you know there’s still a chance that he can come back and play. As long as there’s a good chance that he can play, then that’s a good thing.”
Horton arrived to Boston in 2010 courtesy of the Florida Panthers in a trade that also brought Gregory Campbell - who continues in his role as a fourth line center for the Bruins.
Having played with Horton for several seasons, Campbell remains optimistic about Horton.
“A lot of us are close to Nathan and you never want to see an athlete on the sideline because that’s what he loves to do,” said Campbell. “He’s a good person, he works hard, he’s a professional and he’ll come through this. He takes care of himself and a lot of us still keep in touch with him. It’s been a frustrating couple of years for him I’m sure, but that’s sports and he’ll come through it.”
At just 29, Horton is already faced with the toughest decision of his career. But he isn’t the only player faced with hanging up the skates at a young age.
Cam Neely, who suffered from knee issues throughout his playing career, retired in 1996 at the age of 31. The Bruins’ President spent 10 years as a player donning the spoked B while dazzling fans with his physical style and soft hands as one of the top power forwards in the league.
Sound familiar? Well it should, because Horton, through all the aches and pains he has acquired during his career, has a similar playing style to Neely’s. And in just his first season with Boston, he etched his name into Bruins lore with clutch goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Those on-ice glory days are far behind Horton, however.
“It’s very difficult to come to a conclusion,” Neely recalled about the decision he faced when asked about Horton. “Ultimately, you get as much information as you can from doctors and the medical staff and you probably don’t want to believe what they’re telling you and get back to playing. Then it becomes really about quality of life for young men, and you have kids and a family to take care of so you have to put in all those factors, too.”
As Horton continues to factor in his decision, the support system from his former teammates and Bruins fans is always something that will be appreciated.