To hear Nathan Horton tell Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Post Dispatch on Thursday say “I’m like a zombie in the daytime” when describing how his degenerative back injury that very likely has ended his career at the young age of 29 makes him feel every day was depressing news on so many fronts. Obviously no one wants to see a young athlete in the prime of his career have to hang em up that early and no one wants anyone to suffer the way Horton described what he’s going through on a daily basis.
“I can’t stand up like a normal person; I can’t bend over,” Horton went on to tell Portzline. “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.”
But to hear this about Nathan Horton, at least for this scribe is saddening to say the least. I had the pleasure of covering Horton during his three seasons in Boston and the reason I say pleasure wasn’t simply to describe the way he played on the ice, it was because the rugged winger on the ice was always smiling off it. Despite the fact that the 6-foot-2 229-pound Horton absolutely pulverized opponents into the boards or en route to the net before beating the goalie for one of his 202 regular season goals or 15 playoff goals, Horton was smiling and always happy off the ice. Even after a tough loss he would find a way to spin a positive and smile. That smile and demeanor was infectious with his teammates in the dressing room.
“This place is depressing without ‘Horty’ around,” center David Krejci once said to me when Horton was out with an injury. “The guy never stops smiling and we love it.”
Obviously they didn’t mind the smiles he gave them on the ice either. Horton became an instant Bruins legend during those 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs scoring the overtime winners in Games 5 and 7 in the opening round against the Canadiens and then the game-winner in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals to propel the Bruins into the Stanley Cup Finals. Horton of course got knocked out of that series with a concussion in Game 3 from a vicious open-ice hit from Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome but his injury and spirit became a rallying cry for Boston as they went on to win the series in seven games. Remember too it was Horton who sprayed TD Garden ice water onto the ice at Rogers Arena for good luck prior to that Game 7 win. To that point int he series, the Bruins hadn’t won in Vancouver but the good luck charm worked.
If the pain and suffering from this back condition don’t subside soon, Horton will be forced to have he would need to have at least three or four vertebrae fused with a titanium rod which according to doctors will ultimately end his career. But as he told Portzline he’s not giving up and now it’s Horton who needs the good luck and maybe some blessed TD Garden ice water to resume his career and his seven-year, $37.1million contract with the Blue Jackets he signed back in July 2013.
“I’m not giving up,” Horton said. “I still feel young other than my back. As long as I can hold off the surgery, I feel like there’s a chance. A chance for something. A miracle. Something.”
While it would be great to see that miracle happen and Horton resume his career, to see him live comfortably again and have that smile would be just as — if not — greater. Good Luck ‘Horty.’