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Providence forward, Chino Hills’ Gamez keeps life goals in sight after cardiac scare

 

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Garrett Gamez’s next shift might be a quantum one.

The hockey future of the rising junior at Providence College is uncertain after he collapsed on the Friars’ bench during a Hockey East playoff game at Notre Dame on March 11.

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“This summer is up in the air – my whole career might be,” the Chino Hills native said. “There is a chance I may never be able to play hockey again. I’m not scared of it. (But) it’s something I’ve done all my life.

“That said, my life isn’t defined by hockey. It’s defined by God, God’s grace and God’s plans for me. He instilled a passion for hockey and to live out that dream. If that’s shut down, I know God has other opportunities for me to inspire others. Realistically it’s not about me. It’s about how many people you can impact. It’s the same whatever your job is.”

Gamez, who said he has felt well of late, will go through another battery of tests later this summer to determine what next steps to take and if playing hockey again is possible.

Gamez, who played one season of AAA for the Los Angeles Jr. Kings after playing AA for Orange County Hockey Club, LA Hockey Club, the California Wave and Stars, emerged into a solid contributor for the Friars in his sophomore season. The second-line right wing also played on all special teams units.

“He was playing the best hockey he’d every played for us,” Friars coach Nate Leaman said. “He had just scored the OT-winning goal for us (against UMass on Feb. 25).”

Two weeks later, everything changed.

“There are people going through way worse than I am. My life’s not at risk,” said Gamez, who has a double major in finance and accounting. “It’s a very humbling experience. … I wouldn’t want this to happen to anyone else.”

“This” was a moment, though, no one wants to go through.

“He came back to the bench and he looked like he was in some pain,” Leaman said. “That happens a lot in hockey; you take a heavy check or block a shot or take a slash.

“Then he went down on one knee and then he collapsed. I yelled to the referee to stop the game. Our trainers rushed in, Notre Dame’s trainers ran over. We’re pretty fortunate to be in a college atmosphere where we have so much support as far as doctors, an ambulance, proximity to a hospital.”

Gamez said something didn’t feel right during the previous night’s game, but it was nothing that caused him concern.

“I would come back to the bench and I’d feel my heart racing, then it would slow down and I’d be fine,” he said. “You’re going through the emotions on the ice, not thinking about something drastic. I had a good game and got good rest that night.”

During a penalty kill on Saturday a similar, but stronger, sensation occurred.

“As I was going to the draw, my heart raced. I was feeling woozy,” Gamez said. “I got the puck deep and went right to the bench to try to calm myself down. Next thing you know I’m going in and out of consciousness.” I called for the trainer and ended up collapsing.

“I woke up and stood. Next thing you know I was in the training room and trainers from both schools and all the Notre Dame physicians were around me. They ripped off my gear and did an EKG there and found an abnormal heart rate.”

Gamez was rushed to an emergency room where doctors stabilized him so he could fly back to Providence for further evaluation.

“(Associate athletic director) Kyle Murphy left the game and stayed with me the whole time,” Gamez said. “I met with a cardiologist who works with Providence Athletics. He said there were some things going on with my heart, but he didn’t want to make any assumptions because things can come and go.”

Gamez lauded the support from Providence toward him and his family.

“One thing coach Leaman and the athletic department made sure I knew was whether I could play or not is my full ride was taken care of,” Gamez said. “They made sure I knew I would be part of the team.

“It’s such an amazing college and tight-knight group where everyone cares about each other. I can’t express my gratitude enough to them.”

Regardless of whether Gamez’s future includes hockey or not, his legacy is intact.

“He’s an unbelievable kid,” Leaman said. “He’s a hard worker, outstanding academically. He’s a mature kid who knows what he wants to do with his life and a great teammate. It’s impossible to say anything negative about Garret Gamez.”


UPDATE (Aug. 22): Gamez has announced that he will no longer play hockey due to ongoing health concerns.

Gamez will join the men’s hockey staff this upcoming season as a student assistant coach.

“After speaking with the doctors, we have come to the conclusion that playing hockey would require risks to my health that I am not willing to take,” Gamez said. “I can’t explain how hard this decision was to make. With that being said, I can’t thank my family, friends, teammates and coaches enough for all the support they have given me through this tough time.”

Gamez collapsed on the bench during the first period in Game 2 of the Hockey East quarterfinals at Notre Dame on March 11 and missed the remainder of the season.

He appeared in 57 games for the Friars from 2015 to 2017, posting eight goals and eight assists over that span. Three of Gamez’s eight career goals were game-winners, including an overtime goal in the Friars’ 2-1 win over UMass on Feb. 25 of last season.

“Garrett’s health and well-being go beyond hockey and we completely support his decision,” Leaman said. “Not only is Garrett a terrific hockey player, he is an even better person and someone who truly embodies the spirit of a Providence College student-athlete. We are fortunate that he will be around the program to assist on a daily basis.”

Photo/Chris Emerson/Providence Athletics

— Chris Bayee