In every athlete’s career there comes a time when they are faced with the realization that they can no longer play the game they love. Maverick men’s hockey forward Zach Lehrke came to that realization sooner than he had hoped. A medical condition forced the senior forward to hang up the skates just before his final season began. The loss of any player to a team hurts, but Lehrke’s departure will be deeply felt by his teammates, coaches, and fans.
For those who have watched MSU men’s hockey the last few years, it’s easy to see Zach loves the game. There may be other players on the ice that work as hard, but no player could outwork Lehrke. The Park Rapids, Minnesota native played the game with energy all over the ice, making his presence felt. After having a limited role as a freshman, he was one of the go-to players for the Mavericks the past two seasons. Often times running the top of the power play unit, Lehrke finished towards the top of the scoring chart for MSU his sophomore and junior seasons.
As a sophomore, Lehrke tied for the team lead in goals with 13 and finished with 23 points on the year, good for fourth on the team. He improved his point total to 25 his junior season on 8 goals and 17 assists to place fourth in scoring a second straight season. The speed and tenacity in which he played with will be missed and remembered by Maverick fans this season. It wasn’t an easy decision, but when it came to his health, Lehrke didn’t want to take any risks. “It was an extremely tough decision to hang them up, I love the game of hockey so much and have put so much time into it that it stings to be done, but the hope is that I won't have to suffer from the condition as much”, said Lehrke.
It’s clear that Zach would have skated through the pain had this been something minor, but he had been skating through the pain long enough. This was something he has dealt with his entire hockey career and become increasingly difficult to handle. He explained, “I have had this my entire life, but the higher the levels I have been going up the tougher it has been to deal with.” So what is the name of this condition? We’re not exactly sure about that, but Zach explained the condition as best he could.
|Lehrke taking a faceoff against Alaska-Anchorage|
“I get cramps all over my body, from head to toe. It is very painful and has made life miserable many days. I usually get them everyday no matter what, playing hockey and working out makes them that much worse. There have been many days where whether it is after a workout or a skate that I have not been able to move for several hours after. There are also days where I don't do any type of physical activity and I still cramp up. I made the decision based on the fact that I hope I won't be in as much pain anymore”, Lehrke said of the condition. When hearing it explained like that, it’s hard not to respect the way Lehrke played through the pain for so many years. Hockey players are known to keep skating after blocking shots and even breaking bones in some cases, but those injuries are temporary. Zach was living out the dream of playing Division I hockey, even though his body was constantly trying to hold him back.
It’s hard to see a great player like Lehrke hang up the skates, especially when it’s due to something he can’t control, but he knew it was the right decision for him personally. He expressed, “It was the best decision both for me and my body, and I didn't want to dread each day I woke up knowing how much pain I was going to have to suffer through again. Basically I told myself that enough is enough and I just kind of snapped about it this year.” On behalf of the MSU community and Maverick hockey fans, I say good luck Zach, and we will miss watching you play this season.