Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Zednik Incident: A Scary Moment For The NHL

Apologize for the delay in this post, hopefully my disappearance won't be as long next...

There have been many major injuries over the years in sports and the NHL is no different. Back in 1989, a Buffalo Sabres goalie by the name of Clint Malarchuk was cut in the throat/neck area by a skate blade, leading to a profuse amount of blood pooling in his crease. He would survive that terrible incident and come back shortly after. It is the only documented case in NHL history of a skate blade cut to the neck, that was until this season.

On February 10th, 2008, Olli Jokinen of the Florida Panthers moved into the offensive zone for a check against a Buffalo Sabre. As I watched my favorite team play live on TV in the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, I had no idea what was coming next. Jokinen's hit attempt got him upended, enough that his skate blade flew into the air. Normally this wouldn't be a big problem, even though it rarely happens anyway, but at that moment fellow teammate and linemate Richard Zednik skated directly into that blade. What was resulted next was a blur of shock and confusion.

The camera moved away from the situation as the puck and play moved back into the neutral zone, but one could see a hint of Zednik going down. It wasn't clear until the announcers started yelling for the play to stop and shouting with worry and dismay. Richard Zednik had skated over to the bench, behind him a huge trail of blood was left. The Panthers trainer Dave Zenobi placed a towel against the neck of Zednik and with the help of teammate Jassen Cullimore, carried him in each arm to the dressing room. Halfway down the hallway, Zednik lost the power to move and had to be nearly dragged to the back. The crowd had at first been struck with awe, as a loud "ooooooh" could be heard. Then there was silence, the game had been stopped, a player was no longer on the ice, and the only memory of him having played a moment ago was the plasma trail he left behind. He had skated to the bench in a matter of seconds and in that time, had dropped nearly one-third of his blood onto the white ice.

It had become clear at this point with replays that Zednik was cut by Jokinen's skate blade in the neck, his carotid artery or jugular having been nearly severed, and a terrible injury had just occurred in front of thousands of fans in person and watching at home. The replays kept going and for 15 minutes the game was stopped with no word on Zednik's condition. It was at this point that the in-rink announcer alerted the crowd that Zednik was in stable condition, on his way to a Buffalo area hospital.

The game would continue in a Panthers loss, a game that probably should have been stopped. Of course this was the last meeting between the teams that season in the 3rd period and would be difficult to make up at this point. Many of the Panthers were simply not in the game anymore, especially captain Olli Jokinen, who continued to be haunted by what he had done. His actions, though not intentional, scarred not just Zednik but him mentally as well, which had some effect on his lackluster play to finish the season in long shot attempt at the playoffs.

Thankfully, Zednik recovered just fine and with Zenobi, the trainer who saved his life, were both honored at a Panthers game later in the year. The fact that Zednik had the presence of mind to immediately skate to the bench may have saved his life. Moreover, the amazing thing was that again, it happened in a Buffalo arena, both incidents of this type in the NHL ever happened in Buffalo. It was a moment I know I'll never forget as both a Panthers and general hockey fan. Luckily, Zednik will be just fine, and looks forward to returning to play next season. Yes this did spur talks of neck guards in the NHL, but they don't always have enough effect and may not have even stopped this incident.

One thing is for certain, it was still a freak accident and the fact that Zednik is OK is all that matters. The NHL moved on from the incident as it should due to the immense rarity of it. That's the game of hockey, you take a risk with every shift and sometimes bad things happen. With the intelligence of the players and staff, the chances of anyone sustaining permanent injury or even death is highly unlikely. So I salute you Mr. Zednik and Mr. Zenobi and the Florida Panthers team/staff for all you've done. Not that anyone should want to relive the incident, but if you so choose, the original broadcast is in a video below. Watch at your OWN discretion, please.

And with that, I look forward very much to seeing Richard Zednik back at the red line next season. Here's to you, Z.