He broke back-scratchers trying to ease the itch. He wrapped himself in towels so the blood and pus wouldn’t ruin his clothes. He tried changing equipment. He tried lining his equipment with towels. He tried slathering himself in a thick layer of cream before putting on his gear. He tried changing his undergarments after warm-ups and between every period. He tried squirting himself with cold water under his equipment between shifts. He tried bringing his equipment home with him every night rather than leave it festering in the locker room. He spent seven to 10 days at a time at the Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin between games. He received steroid shots and cortisone shots.
Nothing could stop “The Gunk,” as it was known in the 1970s. And, eventually, when the coaching staff called for two-a-day practices for his lousy team, Reid — an 11-year veteran and former Blackhawks defenseman — knew his playing days were over.
“I did one two-a-day, and that was it,” Reid said. “It inflamed so rapidly that it was painful. I had to sleep in a straight-back wooden chair because I couldn’t lay down in the bed anymore. And as soon as I was off the ice and stopped playing, it was gone within a couple of weeks. Never came back.”
Reid doesn’t know exactly what Marian Hossa is going through, but he certainly has an idea. Hossa will sit out the 2017-18 season, and his career could be over because of what he called a progressive skin disorder. A Hawks source said Hossa’s situation has been getting worse in recent years. The Gunk ran rampant through the NHL in the ’70s, but Reid didn’t start experiencing it until his eighth season. He lasted three difficult seasons, including only 36 games in the 1977-78 season (his last) while dealing with it before doctors told him it was dangerous to continue receiving cortisone and steroid shots.
“They called it The Gunk, and to this day, they couldn’t figure it out,” Reid said. “[The doctor] told me we can’t continue to give you the steroid and cortisone shots because you’ll be dead by the time you’re 40. So I said, ‘This is not going to work. Sayonara.’ ”
Unlike Hossa, who has made almost 95 percent of the salary owed on his 12-year, $63.3 million contract, Reid wasn’t making much money, and he had little to fall back on. His doctors told him it was a work-related injury, but Reid said the fledgling players union offered no support. Fortunately, Reid has been able to stay connected to the hockey world as a Minnesota Wild broadcaster. He also owns a popular bar and restaurant in St. Paul, just a block away from the XCel Energy Center.
“It was difficult, especially because we didn’t make a lot of money in those days,” Reid said. “It’s hard to walk away, but sometimes you just don’t have a choice.”