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Dead at 35, With Brain Damage, Hockey Family Says

CHICAGO (CN) - The National Hockey League must pay after an autopsy confirmed that Steve Montador had concussion-related brain damage, family of the 35-year-old defensemen says in court.

The Montadors are among dozens of families of former NHL players seeking damages for the league's supposed failure to inform players about the risks concussions play in causing CTE, a degenerative brain condition that stands for chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Before he was found died in his home this past February of unknown causes, Canadian-born Montador was in his second year of retirement.

Montador last played for the Chicago Blackhawks, capping off a 12-year career with a half-dozen teams that included more than 600 games and 15 documented concussions - five of which occurred in a three-month span of the 2011-12 season.

Attorneys for the Montador family at Corboy & Demetrio announced in May that the Canadian Sports Concussion Project in Toronto had examined Montador's brain and found "widespread presence" of CTE.

The family filed its federal complaint against the NHL on Tuesday.

"The NHL has long known that its players were susceptible to developing CTE and other neurodegenerative brain diseases as a result of the fist-fighting it allowed and promoted, the hard hits it encouraged and marketed, and/or the blows to the head that it steadfastly refused to eliminate from its game," the 37-page complaint states.

Montador is the fifth NHL player with a confirmed presence of CTE, which cannot be diagnosed until an autopsy. The disease has been found in the brains of Reggie Fleming, Bob Probert, Rick Martin and Derek Boogaard .

Based in Ontario, the hockey player's family says the NHL "failed to keep Steven Montador reasonably safe during his career and utterly failed to provide him with crucial medical information on the permanent ramifications of brain trauma."

They seek damages for failure to warn, and for the league's "avaricious desire to permit and promote fighting" in the game of hockey, which allegedly demonstrates the NHL's "willing[ness] to sacrifice players' brains in the name of tradition and in the cause of profit."

Back in May, the NHL denied responsibility for Montador's fate. "We do not agree that the reports and allegations establish any link between Steve's death and his NHL career," the league had said.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday that it stood by those remarks.

Unlike the National Football League, the NHL has remained steadfast in its denial of the sport's connection to CTE.

In 2011, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman dismissed suggestions that the haunting deaths of NHL enforcers had any relation to their careers.

"We don't know everything that went on in their lives," Bettman said. "We don't know what else they had in common, if anything."

William Gibbs, an attorney for the Montadors, railed against such disavowals.

"How many more players will die with CTE before something meaningful is done to help those suffering?" Gibbs asked in a statement,

With its "body count" growing, the NHL is "burying its head in the sand on the issue of brain damage amongst its retired player population," instead of taking action, Gibbs added.

"It is high time for the League to recognize that many former players are suffering, and the NHL should step up to take care of these men and their families," Gibbs said.

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