Carney retires from hockey a year after neck injury

By Stefan Kubus -

It isn’t how he envisioned his hockey career panning out, but following his team’s 3-1 win over Ferris State Saturday night, injured Michigan State Spartans defenseman Branden Carney announced his retirement from hockey on the advice of medical professionals.

Carney, the 20-year-old Battle Creek native, suffered a freak accident during a November practice last season in which he went head first into the boards. As a result, he suffered fractures in his C1 and C2 vertebrae.

And as crushing as this news could be, Carney – who has been playing the game since he was four years old – said he’s handling it well.

“It was in the back of my mind,” Carney said of potentially facing retirement in the past. “I wasn’t trying to think about it too much. The first day I found out, after my appointment I was kind of shook up a little bit, but everyone’s been great here in supporting me. Getting a text from everybody on the team was kind of nice, saying, ‘You’re still part of this team. We still want you around.”

Carney, who unfortunately never had the chance to play in a Spartan game, previously played with the Owatonna Express in the NAHL during the 2010-11 season.

“My career was going to come to an end sometime,” Carney said. “It’s just a little shorter than I expected and I just have to move on from here and see where it takes me.”

He said his doctors told him that the ultimate reason he could no longer play hockey – or any contact sport for that matter – was that the recovery process did not go as projected.

“There was no bone growth where I broke the C2, so they said it was too dangerous for me to play contact sports anymore,” Carney said. “Basically, I can live a normal life, just without hockey.”

Head coach Tom Anastos said that, while it’s an incredibly frustrating end to a young career, it’s certainly a remarkable blessing.

“He’s very disappointed, I know his family is disappointed, we’re disappointed for him, and yet, I think it’s a miraculous recovery,” Anastos said. “You can stay involved in the game of hockey in many different ways. I’m just so thankful and grateful that he’s going to live a normal, healthy lifestyle because, boy, a lot of people who had that same injury aren’t as fortunate.”

So what now for Carney?

“I feel great,” Carney said. “No pain or anything. It’s too risky for me to go out there [and play hockey].

“I know I’m probably going to skate over break with a couple buddies, but no contact or anything like that.”

He can walk away from such a frightening injury and live a healthy life – something that truly cannot be overstated here.

But not only that, he said he hopes to stay in the hockey world in some fashion, whether it be coaching, working with film or just being around the team.