Former NHL defenseman Steve Montador had a degenerative brain disease that's been linked to repeated blows to the head, according to researchers who autopsied his brain.
Montador died in February at age 35 of an undisclosed cause at his home in Mississauga, Ontario. He had multiple concussions during his career with six NHL teams and had been exhibiting signs of a possible brain disorder, including depression, memory problems and erratic behavior.
His brain was donated to the Canadian Sports Concussion Project at Toronto's Krembil Neuroscience Center for analysis. Dr. Charles Tator said Tuesday the autopsy showed widespread chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, throughout Montador's brain.
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Montador's family said they plan to launch a lawsuit against the NHL. A statement on their lawyer's website said "the finding of widespread CTE in Steven's brain helps us all better understand that his brain was ravaged by disease and he was unable to control it."
William Gibbs, an attorney at the Chicago-based firm Corboy & Demetrio, said on the website the analysis confirmed the family's suspicions that Montador's brain was "decaying due to the head hits he endured during his NHL career."
"CTE has afflicted yet another young athlete and his family. It is heartbreaking that such a vibrant young man sustained such monumental brain damage while playing a professional sport," Gibbs said.
The league reacted to the potential lawsuit in a statement: "The NHL family shares in the sorrow of one of our own losing his life prematurely, and our thoughts, condolences and prayers remain with Steve's family and friends. However, we do not agree that the reports and allegations made today establish any link between Steve's death and his NHL career."
Montador played for Calgary, Florida, Anaheim, Boston, Buffalo and Chicago. He had arranged for his brain to be donated to the Krembil Neuroscience Centre upon his death.
The Sports Concussion Project has analyzed the brains of 16 athletes, with roughly half showing signs of CTE or the presence of another neurodegenerative disease.