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Former NHL enforcer Chris Simon has died at age 52

Former NHL enforcer Chris Simon has died. He was 52.

Simon died Monday night in his hometown of Wawa, Ontario, a spokesperson for the NHL Players' Association who has been in touch with the late forward's agent, said Tuesday.

Simon died by suicide, his family said Wednesday.

Simon’s family blamed his death on CTE, the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, in a statement released through agent Paul Theofanous. “We will not be releasing any further details at this time and ask for privacy during this very difficult time,” the family wrote. “We appreciate everyone who shares in our tragic loss.”

There’s no way to confirm CTE while a person is alive, though doctors can identify suspected cases based on symptoms and neurological exams.

Simon played 857 regular-season and playoff games over 15 NHL seasons from 1993-2008. Over his career, he fought more than 100 times and racked up 1,824 penalty minutes to rank 67th in league history.

“For a big tough player, he was also a very kind, caring individual who was always respectful and grateful for advice," former agent Larry Kelly said in a text message to The Associated Press.

Simon won the Stanley Cup with Colorado in 1996 and was part of runs to the final with Washington in 1998 and Calgary in 2004. He also spent time with the Quebec Nordiques before they became the Avalanche and played for Chicago, Calgary, Minnesota and the New York Rangers and Islanders, before finishing with five seasons in the KHL from 2008-13 and retiring.

“Chris was a great guy, a beloved teammate and an important part of our first championship season," said Joe Sakic, Colorado's president of hockey operations who was captain when the team won in 1996. “He was a really good hockey player who could score goals, was a big presence in the dressing room and was the first person to stand up and defend his teammates. Off the ice, he was an unbelievable guy and a caring father, son, brother and friend.”

Simon on the ice was a respected teammate and fan favorite, though he occasionally crossed the line and faced supplemental discipline. The NHL suspended him eight times totaling 65 games, including a 25-game ban in March 2007 while he was with the Islanders for cross-checking the Rangers' Ryan Hollweg in the face and 30 games for stomping on the leg of Pittsburgh's Jarkko Ruutu that December.

Philadelphia drafted Simon in the second round of the 1990 draft and sent him to the Nordiques as part of the 1992 trade that got the Flyers prized prospect Eric Lindros.

Simon, who was of Ojibwa descent, was considered a role model for First Nations hockey players across Canada.

“Chris Simon was most definitely an intimidating guy on the ice,” former teammate Mike Commodore posted on social media. “We spent a lot of time together during Flames '04 run since we were both living in the hotel. ... He couldn’t have been nicer to me. RIP Chris. You will be missed.”

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This story includes discussion of suicide. If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl