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Leaving NHL Was Just What the Doctor Ordered : Hockey: Fred Arthur failed to live up to expectations as a first-round pick in 1980. Now he's a medic and enjoys playing again.

November 29, 1990|JEFF JACOBS | THE HARTFORD COURANT

As a celebrated first-round pick in 1980, he never did fulfill his role as the Hartford Whalers' savior.

But as a doctor, Fred Arthur is helping save lives.

Arthur has found happiness in medicine and satisfaction at the Victoria Hospital emergency room in London, Ontario. It is a career fulfillment he couldn't find in the NHL.

"We have people coming in from all over western Ontario from auto accidents, heart attacks, sports injuries, suicide attempts," he said. "You sit there having coffee with your feet up and then all hell breaks loose. An ambulance is coming with lights and sirens. In two minutes, we'll be in a major resuscitation room with a person who could have injuries to every part of his body. It's challenging, exciting."

Rather than accept a demotion to the minors, Arthur announced his retirement from the Philadelphia Flyers on Oct. 25, 1982. He was 21.

Eight years later, there are a thousand questions to ask this man who was drafted eighth in the world in 1980 and this year became a medical doctor. But then again there is only one question: Did you do the right thing?

"Definitely," said Arthur, who is married and the father of a 9-year-old girl.

After a bitter taste of hockey in Hartford, Arthur was traded to Philadelphia in 1981. He played well the first half of the 1981-82 season for the Flyers before slipping in the second half. That summer he heard the beat of another drummer and marched out of the NHL.

"I showed I could play in Philly. I killed all the penalties," Arthur said. "Wayne Gretzky was on the ice. 'Get out there, Fred.' That's a pretty big ego trip. But once I showed I had that level of skill, a lot of the motivation was gone . . .

"I went back home and played video games for two months. My brother still tells a story about how I played one game for nine hours without blinking. Then I started to come together. I went to McGill University (in Montreal) for premed. It was a scary experience. I would stay up to 1 a.m. reading about the orbits of electrons. I'd wake up the next morning and it wasn't there. My brain was out of shape."

Some of the little comparisons, some of the ironies, still filter through Arthur's mind. He looks at the team picture of the 1981-82 Flyers and sees how few remain in the NHL today. He realizes if he were playing he would be considered aging. But as a doctor he's a kid.

A couple of times each week, he and his fellow doctors skate. They even play in periodic tournaments. When he works five nights in a row, Arthur says he can be brutal. Other nights, it all flows.

"The circle is almost complete," he said. "It started as fun, carried me a long way, I learned a lot, gave me experience. Now it's fun again."

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