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Sharks hope defender Jacob Middleton won't miss the rest of the season


The first two months of this season have been routine for San Jose Barracuda captain John McCarthy. In his 11th professional year of hockey, the 88-game veteran with the NHL Sharks still felt strong and healthy. It was a stark contrast to what he was feeling when he woke up on December 10.

The left side of my body was weird, McCarthy recalls. This is the only way I can describe it. It hurt, just pins and needles.

McCarthy's worrisome symptoms quickly worsened, so he called immediately.

The first call went to his wife, who suggested skipping hockey that day to see a doctor.

The next call went to the Barracuda coach.

My speech was completely muddled, he could barely understand what I was trying to say, said McCarthy.

The third call went to the Barracuda doctor.

He didn't say the word stroke, I'm sure he knew what was going on and probably didn't want to scare me, said McCarthy.

The prognosis was not clear, but what was to happen was: McCarthy took an Uber to the hospital where he was barely able to describe his condition when he arrived.

My brain was fine, clear, said McCarthy. For some reason, the signal from my brain to my mouth was not working, and I couldn't say the words.

McCarthy had a CT scan and quickly received an anti-clot anticoagulant. Doctors were expecting a stroke, and it looked like they were correct. Her symptoms subsided almost quickly when they first appeared.

After two full days of assessment at the hospital, everyone started to see the big picture.

It turned out that I had a hole in the wall between the ventricles of my heart, explained McCarthy. And for whatever reason, a blood clot that most likely started in my legs passed through my bloodstream, into my heart. And instead of being cleaned in my lungs, it went through the hole in my heart and was expelled with the blood flowing to my ends. It entered my brain.

At 33, the healthy hockey player suffered an ischemic stroke.

After corrective surgery, and the realization that McCarthy could continue to live a normal life, there was another problem to be resolved.

It was not excluded that I could come back to play, said McCarthy.

But McCarthy also realized that the rest of the 2019-2020 season was a bust, and nothing after that was guaranteed.

And then came the ultimate signal.

While McCarthy was lying in his hospital bed, he learned from television that the Sharks had fired Pete DeBoer as head coach and promoted Barracuda's longtime coach Roy Sommer. This means that the San Joses AHL team would have open coaching roles.

There was a little opportunity there, said McCarthy. And I thought it was the right time for the transition. Being 33 years old, playing underage as long as I am, associated with the possibility of starting a second career and gaining some experience. It was too good to pass up.

A few days later, Barracuda broadcaster Nick Nollenberger was inside the team's locker room when McCarthy shared his intentions to become a group assistant.

Everyone bowed their heads, said Nollenberger when the word retirement was spoken. And then as soon as he said he was going to join the technical staff, everyone burst out.

McCarthy says Barracuda general manager Joe Will and Sharks general manager Doug Wilson provided the time and resources he needed to succeed in a transition from ice to behind a bench.

This has still not made it easier to suspend the skates.

It's very difficult because being a hockey player is part of your identity, admitted McCarthy. It was awkward at first, I'll be honest. It was weird to be in the locker room and literally the next day in the coaching hall. I went from equipment to a tracksuit in practice.

It is incredible to consider irony. One of the worst ways to close a door to a playing career was actually another door opening onto a second avenue with hockey.

When it happened, I was a little depressed, said McCarthy. Well Named. Disappointed, struggling with the decision. And now, after a few months of coaching, and seeing that there is an opportunity for a second career, it is a good way to change things for me.

As McCarthy works alongside co-coaches Jimmy Bonneau and Michael Chiasson, he has an inherent connection with players that few can understand, since he was one of them there is just three months old.

If you asked a lot of players, there is no major difference, said Nollenberger. Johns is always there to answer questions, to support.

(RELATED: Jones takes control of goalkeeper competition)

Connecting with these players is easy, but taking them to the next level is all that he really cares about.

This is basically what motivates me, is to give them the chance to play in the NHL, said McCarthy. This is what it is for me now, and I hope the message gets there.

As for McCarthys' health, this story is not completely over. Later this month, a healing device planted in his heart will be reassessed. The hope is that the device has done what it was supposed to do.

I should be able to get out of the blood thinners and live a normal life, which would be nice, "said McCarthy.

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