Fife Flyers defenceman Rick Pinkston retires from playing after hospital scare

Rick Pinkston has been forced to retire due to injury. Pic: Steve Gunn
Rick Pinkston has been forced to retire due to injury. Pic: Steve Gunn

Having already made the decision that this season would be his last, Rick Pinkston hoped to finish his career in a blaze of glory with Fife Flyers.

Instead, the defenceman was forced to miss the Elite League play-offs after being hospitalised with an infection that left him fearing long-term health complications.

Rick Pinkston celebrates an overtime winner against Sheffield Steelers in March. Pic: Steve Gunn

Rick Pinkston celebrates an overtime winner against Sheffield Steelers in March. Pic: Steve Gunn

Pinkston suffers from a hockey condition known as Bauer Bump, an inflammation around the ankle and heel joints caused by skating.

The problem first flared up during his junior days, but only recurred this season in Fife, causing a painful blister on his left foot which he played through for several weeks, only for it to become infected, eventually forcing him out of the line-up for several weeks in December and into January.

After recovering from this initial setback, Pinkston returned to action and was playing his best hockey of the season when another blister formed on the same foot, which again became infected, only this time matters took a more serious turn, ending up with him in hospital, and ruled out of the play-offs.

The 28-year-old explained: "I was constantly putting my foot into a skate which was no more than a bacterial cesspool.

"My entire foot had swollen up to the point I couldn't even put it in a shoe.

"I was playing through it but it got infected again, and this time it got so bad that it travelled up my leg and I had to be hospitalised for around three days.

"The alarming point for me was when I started having swollen lymph nodes in my upper leg and lower back pain - that's when I knew it was time to shut it down.

"We're now four weeks out of season and I've still yet to put a shoe on my foot. I've been wearing sandals for the past six weeks."

Missing the play-offs was devastating for Pinkston, but having got to the point where he feared for his limb, there was no other choice to be made.

"For me, possible long-term health complications was definitely a big scare," he said.

"The infection had travelled up my leg and had entered my blood stream.

"The doctors have said that everything indicates I'll make a full recovery.

"But it was such a deep incision that the healing process is taking a long time.

"It still hasn't completely healed, so there's no thought of putting a shoe on at this point.

"Infecting it again is a big scare for me."

Given his condition, it is remarkable that Pinkston was able to play at all, let alone turn in the level of performances he did during the second half of the campaign as he showed the class that took him to the AHL with Milwaukee Admirals.

His 32 points in 52 appearances in the EIHL made him Flyers' top scoring D-man, and many fans were keen to see him return, however, the Michigan native had already made the decision to end his playing career.

"The injury was definitely an unfortunate way for the season to end, but I knew already that this would be my last season," he said.

"This is it for my hockey career, unless I'm the next Ryan Lannan and decide to make a glorious comeback after three or four years.

"For me, and my personal health moving forward, this is the best course of action.

"I definitely have some hockey left in me, but it's time to finally call it and see what other endeavours I can pursue.

"I want to go out on my own terms, and having such a fun year that I did this year, it's safe to say that I've done what I've wanted to do in hockey.

"I didn't make the big leagues, per say, but I feel I really did enjoy playing professionally and it's something that I will always cherish."

The Dartmouth College alumni counts San Jose Barracuda and Springfield Falcons among his former AHL clubs, while he also won the ECHL Kelly Cup with Allen Americans in 2016.

Reflecting on his final season in the EIHL, Pinkston admitted it was "quite a ride", with highs and lows culminating in the disappointment of missing out on the play-offs.

"It was an interesting one to say the least," he said.

"I definitely dealt with some adversity, but all in all it was a really good experience and I really did enjoy it.

"Not the outcome we would have wanted, per say, but given the adversity we faced as a whole, I think it was a pretty good season overall.

"Having to sit out a play-off game for me is when I know that it's serious because I was chomping at the bit to be on the ice for those games.

"I'd like to think I could've made a difference, but at the end of the day, I can't speak highly enough about how proud I am of the way the guys battled through those two games.

"The ending wasn't what we wanted but to come so close over two legs was a real testament to the passion and perseverance of our team as a whole."

Pinkston's injury undoubtedly affected his form in the first half of the campaign and led to him receiving unwarranted personal criticism on social media.

"I didn't want to come off the ice, or put the team in a bind by playing short, but in doing so, I think I limited myself by trying to play through the injury," he said.

However, by the end, the vast majority of the Fife fan-base were full of praise, not only for his performances, but for the bravery he had shown in battling through the pain barrier.

"It's funny how a small group of fickle people can influence a larger group in terms of their opinion - I learned that first hand," Pinkston said.

"It's nice to know that it's only a small group of that type of people who are constantly negative.

"When you let that affect is when you've lost. I'd like to thank those people because I got quite a laugh out of the stupid messages that would come to me.

"The positive support most definitely outweighs the negative. The very large majority of fans in Fife are great supporters of the organisation and it's impressive to see that."