Zednik's injury brings Malarchuk's own nightmare back to surface
It's a memory that Clint Malarchuk cannot erase, even with the passing of two decades.
After hearing the news of Richard Zednik's gruesome neck injury -- the Florida Panther's carotid artery was accidentally severed by a teammate's skate in a game Sunday -- Malarchuk had to once again fight off a recurring nightmare.
"I called in sick," Malarchuk told The Calgary Herald on Monday. "And I was sick. In my head. In my heart. I didn't have a cold. I didn't have flu. But I felt sick just the same. I just could not deal with this. It's been a hard day for me. A very hard day. Harder, actually, than when I was hurt.
"Funny, but I've seen my accident, oh, maybe 100 times. You go to YouTube, punch in my name and you get three different angles of it. Pretty graphic stuff. I've seen it so many times I've almost become detached from it.
"But this ... ? I couldn't bring myself to look."
Malarchuk knows all too well what Zednik experienced.
On March 22, 1989, during a game between the Buffalo Sabres and St. Louis Blues, Steve Tuttle's skate severed the former Sabres goalie's jugular vein. Blood poured from Malarchuk as a trainer pressed a towel against his neck. Malarchuk needed 300 stitches to close the gash.
At the time, there were reports that 11 fans fainted and two more had heart attacks when Malarchuk's macabre accident took place. Three players vomited on the ice.
Zednik was critically injured Sunday night in the third period of the Panthers' game at Buffalo. Teammate Olli Jokinen was upended and his razor-sharp skate blade pierced Zednik's neck, opening a deep gash.
A significant amount of blood immediately began pouring from the 1½-inch wound, leaving a wide, ghastly red trail on the ice as Zednik skated to the Panthers' bench, desperate for help. His carotid artery -- which pumps blood to the brain -- was cut, and emergency surgery that night at Buffalo General Hospital probably saved his life.
The Panthers expected an update on Zednik's condition later Tuesday.
Malarchuk, now a goaltending coach for the Columbus Blue Jackets, told the Herald he had trouble sleeping Sunday night.
"I can only imagine what was going through Richard Zednik's head at that time," Malarchuk told the newspaper. "In my case, I was sure I was going to die. My only concern was getting off the ice so that my mother, who was watching the game back home on TV, wouldn't have to see me bleed to death.
"What I learned, what Richard has learned, what everyone who was in the building that night has learned, is that it can end like ... that. When God calls you, you're obliged to go."
Malarchuk needed the 300 stitches, yet he spent only one night in the hospital. He returned to practice four days later.
"I grew up around rodeo," he said, standing in the middle of the Blue Jackets' dressing room. "You got bucked off the horse, the sooner you got back on the better you were going to be. You can't be living with negatives all the time. You've got to get some positive flow back. I thought it was important to come back as quickly as I could."
Then he added with a laugh, "And I was also in the option year of my contract."
Malarchuk returned to the net less than two weeks after being injured, but he couldn't get past what had happened.
"I came back really strong, I came back really big," he told the Herald. "I came back quicker than anyone imagined. People were saying: 'What a man! What a stud!' But at night, I'd sit straight up, gasping, seeing this huge skate coming at my face and my throat, and I couldn't catch my breath.
"The physical recuperation, that's the easy part. It's the mental side you fight with. I look back now and ask myself, 'Is that why this happened to me? Is that why I'm so screwed up?' I go to one of those slasher movies, those slice-'n'-dice things, blood spurting everywhere, and I break out in a cold sweat. I start to squirm. But this isn't a movie. It's real life. People could die."
Malarchuk told the Herald that he'd offer any support or advice to Zednik if the Panthers forward wants or needs it.
"If I talk to him, I'll tell him time heals," Malarchuk, who played 11 seasons with the Quebec Nordiques, Washington Capitals and the Sabres from 1981-92, told The Associated Press. "If he asked me if he should take his time getting back, I would probably say I didn't. It's better if you get back in there because you're going to be hounded by people with questions until you do."
According to The Associated Press, Malarchuk has tried to get a message to Zednik through the Panthers' front office. He would like to speak with Zednik when the time is right.
"I feel sorry for Richard Zednik. But I also feel sorry for Olli Jokinen, the Florida Panthers and the Buffalo Sabres. There's not only one victim in this type of situation. Nobody gets out unaffected," Malarchuk said. "You cannot be directly involved in something like that and not be profoundly affected by it. You cannot see something like that and not be profoundly affected by it.
"Thankfully, Richard Zednik will live. He'll play again. But what happened ... I can tell him from firsthand experience, it's something that never leaves you."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.