When you saw the chaos that took place Monday night in Dallas, you had to wonder where this was headed. I flipped on the Center Ice package on my television when bulletins started flying on ESPN and Twitter. What I saw wasn’t good.
Ashen hockey players were on one knee on the ice or in prayer on the bench. American Airlines Center was eerily quiet, just like then-HSBC Arena was the night Florida’s Richard Zednik was seriously cut by a skate blade here in 2008.
The explanations soon came about Rich Peverley of the Stars collapsing on the bench. The replay started flashing around the Internet, with Peverley grabbed by the shoulders and feet by trainers and whisked out of view, with no time to wait for a stretcher to arrive.
I thought back to the night 24 years ago that Loyola Marymount basketball star Hank Gathers collapsed and died on the court. Plenty of hockey people thought back to Detroit’s Jiri Fischer, who went down on the bench in Joe Louis Arena in 2005 but was revived, or to the 2008 death of 19-year-old Rangers prospect Alexei Cherepanov in an KHL game in Russia after he was similarly stricken.
Soon the word came that Peverley, who has been dealing with heart problems since training camp, did have a cardiac event but would be OK. Quite a relief, even though there are plenty of questions now if Peverley should have even been on the ice.
Teppo Numminen understands. The Sabres assistant coach has lived through some of this, too, when current Dallas coach Lindy Ruff was his boss here.
Numminen had a valve replaced in his heart in September, 2007. He sat out the entire 2007-08 season until playing in the season finale in Boston, and then played 57 games in the ’08-09 season before retiring.
Thankfully, Numminen never had an incident on the bench. His issue was found in a training camp physical and he took care of it surgically in short order.
“When I found out about my situation, I talked to 4 to 5 doctors and then everybody said the same thing about how I would be fine,” Numminen said Tuesday. “You learn what limitations or restrictions that you have, if any, and you get confident about finding the knowledge you need from as many sources as you can.”
Numminen said once he had his surgery, he felt fine and was confident he could continue his career. Things were a tad contentious, if you remember, as the Sabres had him on the suspended list in a weird Darcy Regier move that remains one of the colder ones of his reign.
“I really felt like everything was fixed and I’ve been fine ever since,” said Numminen, who returns for an annual checkup to the Cleveland Clinic.
The medical personnel in Dallas did a brilliant job in this situation. A doctor has to be within 50 feet of the bench in every NHL rink and defibrillators must be in all dressing rooms, too, in the wake of the Fischer incident.
Despite the good result, players were understandably rattled.
“It’s that connection in hockey that it could be anyone,” said Sabres veteran Zenon Konopka. “You never know what can happen in life. It definitely puts things in perspective about enjoying every day and realizing everything you might take for granted can be taken away. It’s a life lesson for everyone, not just a hockey lesson.”
This has sure been a tough few days of life lessons in the hockey world.
Calgary Flames forward Matt Stajan is on leave after the death of his newborn son Monday. The body of Saginaw Spirit forward Terry Trafford, a current junior teammate of Sabres prospects Justin Kea and Eric Locke, was found Tuesday night after he had been missing for eight days.
And Kootenay Ice player Tim Bozon, a junior teammate of potential No. 1 overall pick Sam Reinhart, remains in a medically induced coma and is listed in critical condition while battling meningitis.
People in the sport stick together. Peverley actually asked how much time was left in the first period and when he can get back in the game. These guys are tough hombres. Konopka joked that all the chatter about something as relatively minor as LeBron James’ broken nose is wasted on hockey players.
“I guarantee you what Peverley said is what the majority of hockey players in this room and the whole league would say,” Konopka said. “That would have been their reaction. I broke my nose 14 times, shattered my nose and played the next night.”
But turning serious, Konopka knows this is the heart and said the hockey world let out a sigh of relief when word spread Peverley would be OK. Still, Peverley is about to have serious life conversations about his career.
“We’re hockey players and we’re going to want to play. You don’t know if it’s taken out of his hands,” Konopka said. “You just hope for the best for him and his family.”
Numminen said he’s available if Peverley needs to talk.
“I’ll tell Lindy I’m here if he needs me,” Numminen said. “He knows what happened to me, so if I can help with anything, sure I would do that.”