January 2, 2007 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Lucia Made Right Call on Hirsch

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

Tyler Hirsch's college hockey career came to a sad and unfortunate conclusion last weekend, following a tumultuous last two-plus years, and a lot of talented play. Minnesota coach Don Lucia made the announcement, dismissing Hirsch from the team, prior to Saturday's championship game of the Dodge Holiday Classic.

The senior's departure has an air of mystery, to an extent, though it seems clear, from the "educated distance" from whence close observers sit, that something is not "right" with Hirsch. His dismissal by Lucia came without specifics, but around what was a building of events. It culminated in Friday's game against Alabama-Huntsville, when Lucia benched Hirsch for most of the last period after Hirsch appeared disinterested in the game.

Everyone is remaining understandably tight-lipped about the details, but it's easy to conclude that Hirsch's lack of focus and disinterest contributed to his dismissal.

The problem is, there are plenty of not-too-hidden indications of mental health issues with Hirsch, that make it a difficult topic to discuss without treading extremely carefully.

The public indications started in a now infamous moment following the WCHA Final Five semifinal in 2005, when Hirsch, after Minnesota had lost and his teammates were leaving the ice, put a puck at the center dot, skated in toward an empty net, blasted a shot and intentionally rammed into the crossbar. He then put his stick down on the ice and skated off. There were reports that Hirsch was crying on the bench during the game, and other less-substantiated rumors. Hirsch was then reportedly checked out for emotional issues, and missed the next three games, returning for the Frozen Four.

Last year, after beginning the season with the Gophers, he withdrew from school and took a medical redshirt, playing the season in Europe.

There were hopeful signs this season, and Hirsch, with his great passing skills, was the WCHA's leading points-per-game performer. But Hirsch was sat out the first game of this season for being late to a team meeting. He was sat for two games in November for lack of work in practice, and he was sat out two games in December for academic issues.

It all culminated in his dismissal.

Certainly, there are those who will continue to take their potshots and make their jokes, with little sensitivity towards whatever is ailing Hirsch.

Fact is, though, we can't really know what's going on. It seems evident that there's something, but we don't know. We should probably reserve judgment until we do, if ever.

On the other hand, Lucia can only be asked to tolerate so much, no matter how much compassion he may have for whatever underlying demons Hirsch is living with. There comes a time when he is too much of a distraction. Lucia can wish him well, but still sever ties.

Thing is, this move really is what's best for Hirsch at this point. Empathy is one thing, excuses are not, and whether he has "issues" or is just a bad apple, he needs to take care of himself one way or another or risk a spiral into even worse self-destruction.

Hopefully, Hirsch can get right and make a pro career for himself, or at least lead a good, productive life.

In the mean time, Lucia made the right call, for the Gophers, and for Hirsch.

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