MANKATO — For the first three years of his Minnesota State hockey career, Zach Lehrke pushed through the pain, and this year, his senior season, was going to be no different.
"Me and Hasty (coach Mike Hastings) and all the coaches felt like it was probably the best summer I've had getting in shape," Lehrke said.
But Lehrke suffers from a medical condition that causes severe, seizing, painful cramping in his legs and others muscles throughout his body. He doesn't know the name of the condition, only that it hits him during and after workouts, practices and games.
This week, just days before the official start of the 2013-14 season, Lehrke decided enough was enough, and he told Hastings that he would not be playing this season and that he was done with hockey.
"I don't think (the condition) has gotten worse," said Lehrke, who says he's had the condition his entire life. "But I felt like this was the best decision for myself and my body.
"I was sick of being in pain every night and every day. As much as I love the game of hockey, I felt like it was the best decision."
During last week’s preseason conference call with the WCHA coaches, Hastings opened by talking about his veteran forwards, and the second player he mentioned was Lehrke.
After a 25-point junior season, Lehrke was expected to again be a top-end scorer for the Mavericks. A key member of MSU's top power-play unit, Lehrke was fourth in scoring in each of the last two seasons.
A year ago, he had eight goals and 17 assists. In 104 career games he compiled 23 goals and 54 points.
"We're going to miss him," Hastings said. "I respect him, and I fully support him. He'll continue to be part of this family for many, many years to come. He's given all that he can give, in my opinion, to his teammates and to the university."
Hastings said Lehrke stayed in Mankato over the summer and was fully committed to Minnesota State's offseason program, often arriving at workouts before the rest of the team. The coach agreed that he was in great shape for his final season.
"What these guys do on a daily basis is extremely demanding," Hastings said. "Put it this way: I'm a big Zach Lehrke fan. I respect him as a human being, and I respect him as a hockey player."
Lehrke played in every game last season and missed just three games as a sophomore. However, there were nights when he was unable to finish due to the cramping.
"It can be all over my body, head to toe," Lehrke said. "It can be pretty painful. There have been mornings when it's tough to get up. Pretty much every day I wasn't able to skate, I was struggling with it."
The Park Rapids native said his brother, Tyler, who played at Bemidji State, also suffers from the condition. In a press release issued by the university Monday evening, he thanked MSU's coaches athletic trainers and medical staffs for the work they did helping him work through his condition.
Preseason practices for the Mavericks are underway this week, and Saturday marks the official start of the season. Minnesota State will play an exhibition game at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Verizon Wireless Center.