Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bad memories

I didn't see Richard Zednik of the Florida Panthers get his throat cut when it happened tonight. I was eating dinner. But I saw the incident on replay later, and it brought back some bad memories.

On March 22, 1989, the St. Louis Blues were playing the Buffalo Sabres in Memorial Auditorium. Steve Tuttle of the Blues went hard toward the net while being checked by Uwe Krupp, when Tuttle's skate came up and cut the throat of Sabres' goalie Clint Malarchuk. I was working for the Sabres at that point in the public relations department, and I was up in the press box on the far side of center ice.

I can't say I was sure what happened immediately. I knew Malarchuk had been hurt as he staggered right off the ice toward the dressing room. I didn't really know how badly he was hurt until I saw the replay on television moments later. A stream of blood came out of Malarchuk's neck; one viewing was enough to keep it in my mind to this day.

Malarchuk received immediate medical care on the six-inch cut; doctors headed to the locker room and eventually ordered him to the hospital. From there, the rest of us weren't sure what was going on. Information was scarce. My most vivid memory came when Clint's brother called Memorial Auditorium from Calgary. The call was sent up to the press box, and I answered it. He was pretty frantic, wondering what had happened. And I was helpless. I eventually transferred the call to the locker room, but I have no idea if he got any information that way.

I heard all sorts of stories in the next 24 hours, how a local couple had stayed up all night praying for him, how people in the stands had become sick watching the play develop. We also heard that Malarchuk was going to be fine, thanks to the speedy medical work of trainer Jim Pizzutelli and doctors. The goalie certainly could have bled to death had he not received prompt, good medical attention. By the way, the master TV tape of the game was erased by the Sabres.

Malarchuk, one of the great characters in Sabre history, was interviewed on television the next day. Staying in character, he told one TV station that he had asked for a zipper on the scarline so that he could store his pencils. Malarchuk also showed the toll of the incident when he nearly broke down in describing the play.

My biggest emotional moment came two days later, as I recall. Malarchuk was out of the hospital, and was going to stop in Memorial Auditorium to pick up a few things. I asked John Gurtler, public relations director of the team, what he thought about introducing Clint to the crowd during the game. Gurtler realized the fans had been through quite a few days emotionally, and it might help everyone to have Clint take a bow and show he was better.

Malarchuk needed a little convincing, but he stood by the Zamboni entrance when he was ready to go. When there was a stoppage in play, I got on the public address system and said something like, "We thought you'd like to say hello to someone tonight. By the Zamboni entrance, please welcome Clint Malarchuk." I barely got the words out.

"The next thing we knew, there was just a huge wave of emotion and the crowd was rising," said Gurtler, who got the Zamboni doors open so that everyone could get a better view. Everyone in the building roared. Opposing players pounded their sticks on the ice in the classic hockey style. When the ovation stopped, Malarchuk said "Wow" to Gurtler and left the building.

Malarchuk was back in uniform within a couple of weeks and continued his NHL career. Let's hope Zednik's story has a similar happy ending.