Dave Balon

Back in 2007, Joe O'Connor of the National Post wrote an excellent story highlighting the struggles of the then-ailing former NHL player Dave Balon.

Balon fought a long and silent battle against Multiple Sclerosis. He was diagnosed with the incurable disease back in 1974, convincing him to retire prematurely. He was best known as a 30 goal scorer and all-star with the New York Rangers, although is remembered fondly also in Montreal.

Over the course of the next 3 decades he slowly surrendered to a progressive strain of the disease that affects the central nervous system.

"Everything below his neck is intact, but gone, really," wrote O'Connor. "Squeeze his arm and Balon feels the pressure of your fingers, though his body is unable to respond. He takes Tylenol to ease a persistent low-grade ache and muscle relaxants to prevent his deadened limbs from twitching involuntarily."

Late in his battle Balon lost his ability to speak.

"(The words) started to come less and less about four years ago, when the multiple sclerosis that has gradually transformed Balon's once-athletic physique into a withered coffin of flesh and bone began its assault on his voice."

Balon spent much of the 1960s struggling for ice time with the New York Rangers then the Montreal Canadiens. Originally a Ranger, he was traded to the Habs as a big piece of the Jacques Plante trade. He would be a serviceable winger in Montreal, but never a star.

After the NHL's first expansion, Balon got his first chance at a starring role, re-joining the Rangers on the "Bulldog Line" with Walt Tkaczuk and Bill Fairbairn. From 1968 to 1971, Balon emerged as an NHL All-Star and led the Rangers in goals twice. In 1970-71 he was named as the Rangers most popular season.

The next season saw Balon moved to Vancouver, where he was lukewarmly accepted by fans when he failed to produce goals like he did in New York. He wound up his career in 1974 with the Quebec Nordiques, then still part of the World Hockey Association.

While his body betrayed him and became all but useless late in life, his mind remained completely bright just like you or I. Much of the caring for Dave Balon fell on his daughter, Jodi. His wife, Gwen, also was ravaged by disease, as well as osteoporosis and a stroke.

"The women who love him hope an earlier generation of hockey fans have not forgotten about the bow-legged Prairie boy who helped Montreal win a pair of Stanley Cups in 1965 and '66, played in four NHL All-Star Games, and fought for his teammates wherever he went," wrote O'Connor.


Unknown 9:27 AM  

just a note, met dave balons daughter lat night at the candle lake golf course, she approached our table and asked if we were hockey players, as it turned out one of the guys was an ex nhl'er, as I recognized her from yrs ago I told her that darren van impe had played some nhl, well she lit up like a xmas tree, she was so happy to have met an nhl'er just like her dad, you had to be there she seemed sad till that moment. was nice to see that smile like I had seen 20 plus yrs earlier stay strong Jodie , Wally

Marylou DiPietro/,  7:41 AM  

Dave Balon's story is quite moving. I've been working with a friend whose journey is no longer silent. She began keeping a "visual journal" of living with MS shortly after being diagnosed 15 yrs. ago. I began writing poetry in response to her amazing paintings after my sister lost her battle with cancer. Our collaboration is called "Snow on the Brain: Living with Multiple Sclerosis". Our first multimedia show just went up in Boston is receiving enormous positive response. Please learn more, watch a short video and spread the work. Thanks so much! Marylou DiPietro & Marguerite McDonald

Brenda Patterson,  6:29 PM  

I just want to say to Gwen and Dave that I often think of them, I had the oppritunity to meet them in the 80's. My ex mother in law was best friends with Gwen! And we all called them auntie and uncle. Since my divorce of that family I always make sure that they my daughters, two of which are huge hockey fans always remember them. They were always so kind to me and my girls. Gwen and Dave you will always be remembered by me! Thank you for being such wonderful people!

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