"Ray the Rat" died doing what he loved. Sixty-year-old Ray Desjardins, known as "Ray the Rat" to friends, suffered a heart attack during a recreational hockey game at the Sandy Hill Arena in Ottawa late Thursday night. He collapsed and died on the ice.

Arena staff called 911 immediately. His wife and sons were notified and rushed to the arena to help.

Although advanced care paramedics, his teammates and arena staff did everything they could to resuscitate him, Desjardins was pronounced dead.

"When we arrived CPR had been started by his teammates and arena staff, and then we took over from there," said J.P. Trottier, of the Ottawa paramedics.

Desjardins, a father of three, worked at the Privy Council Office. He had just recently retired and was three days shy of his 61st birthday. His wife told CTV Ottawa he was in great shape and played hockey once or twice a week.

Desjardins started playing hockey as an adult about 20 years ago. He was part of the Sandy Hill men's recreational hockey league, made up of men ranging in age from 40 to well into their 70s.

But just before Christmas, he experienced chest pains. Two doctors told him it was a minor heart attack; another said he was fine.

His family doctor prescribed him an inhaler this week. Feeling better, Desjardins decided it was time to get back on the ice.

His teammates say his death is a reminder that life is short and we all have physical limits. Other hockey players in the community agree.

"It's a wake up call when you hear that sort of thing," said Corey Cole, a 39-year-old hockey player in Ottawa.

Like most rinks, the Sandy Hill Arena is equipped with a defibrillator. Signs are also posted warning players to take a break if they start feeling chest pains or fatigue because they might be having a heart attack. Other signs tell players they need to get in shape to play hockey; not the other way around.

A Canadian study conducted in 2002, suggested middle-aged men playing recreational hockey could be putting themselves at risk of a heart attack. According to the study, about 10 deaths are reported each year from heart attacks at the rink.

However, an Ottawa doctor believes that number is likely much higher. Dr. Andrew Pipe has spent years trying to educate people about hockey and heart attacks.

"This isn't about being the fastest 45-year-old on the ice, or being the fastest 75-year-old on the ice; this is about enjoying the benefits of a wonderful game in a way that's very safe," said Pipe.

"Don't deny, don't delay. If you think you have problems, get them investigated. If one of your teammates goes down on the ice, immediately go to their aid."

Heart attack warning signs include:

  • Sudden discomfort or pain in the chest, neck, jaw, shoulder, arms or back. The pain may feel like burning, squeezing, heaviness, tightness or pressure. In women, pain may be vague.
  • Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
  • Nausea, indigestion, vomiting
  • Sweating, or cool, clammy skin
  • Fear, anxiety, denial

With a report from CTV Ottawa's Catherine Lathem