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Family before hockey: New book explores NHL career cut short for Wisconsin Badgers star

Blake Geoffrion, a member of the University of Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame, retired from pro hockey after a gruesome injury

Blake Geoffrion poses in front of several of his previous jerseys after signing with the Nashville Predators
Blake Geoffrion tries on his Nashville Predators jersey in front of some of his older jerseys after signing his contract with the NHL hockey team in 2010, in Nashville, Tenn. Geoffrion is the first Tennessean drafted by an NHL team, and is the fourth generation of his family set to play in the NHL. His great-grandfather, Howie Morenz, and grandfather, “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, are both members of the Hockey Hall of Fame. His father, Danny, also played in the NHL. Mark Humphrey/AP Photo

A new book explores the life and career of Wisconsin Badgers hockey legend Blake Geoffrion, including his decision to retire from the NHL.

For the first 24 years of Geoffrion’s life, hockey and family were intertwined. He basically descended from hockey royalty with multiple relatives in the Hockey Hall of Fame. When he joined the NHL, Geoffrion became the first fourth-generation player in the league.

But in 2012, he suffered a depressed skull fracture from an injury sustained at a game. The injury could have taken his life, and it forced Geoffrion to weigh hockey or family. He ultimately picked family.

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Geoffrion played for the Badgers from 2006 to 2010, joining on the heels of the university winning national titles for men’s and women’s hockey. In his last season, Geoffrion became the first Badger to win a top award for individual players in men’s college hockey. He later joined the UW Athletic Hall of Fame.

He was drafted to the NHL in 2006 by his hometown team, the Nashville Predators. Geoffrion joined the league in 2011 after his years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He played for the Predators and the Montreal Canadiens before retiring. He also did scouting and management work in hockey.

During a recent appearance on WPR’s “Central Time,” Geoffrion discussed his career and retirement amid the release of a new biography, “Legacy on Ice: Blake Geoffrion and the Fastest Game on Earth,” by fellow UW-Madison alum Sam Jefferies.

“I still do love the game,” Geoffrion said. “But going through all this, the one thing that I’ve found is that family and friends are most important to me. I was no longer willing to sacrifice those relationships in exchange for the game of hockey.”

Blake Geoffrion scores a goal in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinal
Wisconsin center Blake Geoffrion (5), defended by RIT defenseman Chris Tanev (8) scores on goalie Jared DeMichiel during the second period of an NCAA Frozen Four semifinal hockey game in Detroit in 2010. Carlos Osorio/AP Photo

Geoffrion on wanting to be like his grandfather

Geoffrion comes from a line of hockey royalty. His grandfather, Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, was a Hockey Hall of Fame player, who earned his nickname thanks to his legendary slapshot.

“Boom Boom” married the daughter of Howie Morenz, an inaugural Hockey Hall of Fame inductee in 1945.

The hockey bug bit Geoffrion early. Growing up, Geoffrion rode his tricycle in circles pretending it was a Zamboni. He remembers learning to skate by pushing a chair around and the sensation of scoring his first goal. One time, “Boom Boom” tried to show his grandson how to shoot. But his grandfather missed the net and put a hole through a fence.

“That’s how I knew I was a true competitor since a very young age,” Geoffrion said. “After I saw (him) shoot the puck, I was like, ‘Oh man. I want to be that guy.’”

In college, Geoffrion quickly fell in love with Madison. He connected with then-coach Mike Eaves, who promoted a playing style similar to one of the coaches that Geoffrion played under while on the U.S. men’s national hockey team.

“Truthfully, I really don’t think there’s a better setup or college hockey program in the country,” Geoffrion said. “And I mean that wholeheartedly, not just because I went there. It’s pretty hard to beat Madison.”

Jefferies, the biography author, overlapped with Geoffrion at UW-Madison. He called Geoffrion “The Forrest Gump of hockey.” Geoffrion had been at the right place at the right time for many historical hockey moments, he said.

“I don’t think it was that hard of a sell to convince him that there was even more to his story than maybe he realized,” Jefferies said.

Blake Geoffrion hugs his parents Danny and Kelly after Blake received an award
Wisconsin center Blake Geoffrion, back to camera, is hugged by his mother Kelly and father Danny after winning the Hobey Baker Award, which recognizes the nation’s top men’s college hockey player, during a ceremony at Ford Field in Detroit in 2010. Carlos Osorio/AP Photo

Geoffrion sets new priorities after health scare

Hockey was everything to Geoffrion’s family. In 2013, however, he had to decide if his playing career was over.

On Nov. 9, 2012, Geoffrion was playing in the American Hockey League for the Hamilton Bulldogs when he suffered a skull fracture. NHL games were suspended at the time due to a lockout during the league’s labor dispute. The skull fracture happened when a hard hit sent Geoffrion to the ice and a player’s skate cut his head.

Geoffrion’s parents, Danny and Kelly, were at the game. Danny initially thought the injury was another concussion. Geoffrion said he experienced 13 documented concussions in his career. But after trainers ushered Geoffrion to the locker room, Danny’s phone rang.

“What section are you in? We’ve got people coming to get you right now. We’re taking Blake to the hospital,” Danny recalled hearing, according to the new biography.

The parents rode with Geoffrion in the ambulance. At the hospital, doctors rushed Geoffrion into surgery. He had been seizing. It was unclear if he would live.

Geoffrion’s fiancée at the time, Katelyn, got on a plane the next morning and traveled to Montreal. At the hospital, she saw Geoffrion wired to machines and a ventilator. Next to his bed, a notepad showed he had written, “When can I play again?”

But Geoffrion had written another message first, offering a glimpse at his priorities.

“Where’s Katelyn?”

They married in 2013. Three years later, they had a daughter and named her Blake.

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