It may be the most horrific injury of all time in the National Hockey League.
On March 19, 1989, Steve Tuttle of the St. Louis Blues and Uwe Krupp of the Buffalo Sabres became entangled while chasing the puck and crashed into Buffalo netminder Clint Malarchuk. Tuttle’s skate blade hit Malarchuk on the right side of his neck, severing his carotid artery.
Blood gushed from Malarchuk’s neck and his life was in peril.
Spectators became physically ill and reportedly 11 fans fainted, two suffered heart attacks and three players vomited on the ice.
Malarchuk thought he was going to die.
“I knew my mother was watching so I skated off the ice — I knew that I was going to die and didn’t want her watching that,” he told the 12th annual RDC Kings and Queens Scholarship Breakfast at Westerner Park on Tuesday morning.
But thanks to the quick thinking of Buffalo trainer Jim Pizzutelli, a former Army medic who served in Vietnam, Malarchuk survived. Pizzutelli pinched off the blood vessel and didn’t let go until doctors arrived.
Malarchuk said the team doctor then applied pressure by kneeling on his collarbone, in order to slow his breathing and slow the blood flow.
In all, Malarchuk lost 1.5 litres of blood and needed more than 300 stitches to close the wound.
Eleven days later, he was back on the ice in Buffalo.
“It was adrenalin that got me through the remainder of the season, then it hit me during the summer,” he said. “I started to spiral downwards.”
It was the beginning of the end of his career.
He had suffered with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) since he was a youngster. Coupled with the trauma of the injury, it led to depression and anxiety. Six to eight months after the accident, he was having terrible nightmares and couldn’t sleep.
“I didn’t want to leave home … I was hiding it,” he said.
Malarchuk’s NHL career came to an end following the 1991-92 season. He played parts of five more seasons in the IHL before calling it quits.
He got into coaching in 1998 in Las Vegas with the Thunder and was the head man with the Idaho Stealheads in 1999-2000.
He worked as the goaltending coach for the Florida Panthers in 2002-03 and the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2006-07, was a goaltender consultant with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2010-11 and the goaltending coach with the Calgary Flames from 2011-14.
But he kept fighting his demons.
On Feb. 10, 2008, the trauma of his injury came flooding back when Florida Panthers forward Richard Zednik suffered a similar injury when teammate Olli Jokinen’s skate cut his neck and his carotid artery.
“It all came back and I fell off the horse … I was a full-blown alcoholic and became a recluse.”
Then on Oct. 7, 2008, he tried to take his own life, shooting himself with a .22 calibre rifle. The bullet caused damage to his jaw and lodged in his forehead, where it remains.
He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and spent six months in a rehab centre in San Francisco.
“I realized I was sick … it was a mental illness, I wasn’t weak,” he said. “I accepted that and once I got out of rehab, I worked hard on staying with the program. I was in touch with my emotions. I work out every day as I believe good physical health helps your mental health.”
And he wrote the book The Crazy Game, a task that proved harder than he imagined. During the writing, he had a relapse.
He thanks the Flames for helping him and says he had no idea how he could impact people by talking about mental illness.
“I have a purpose to serve, to help. I’m doing great today and proud of my book.”
He also says that mental health is a sickness that no one should be ashamed of.
“You keep fighting,” he said.
l The RDC athletic leadership fund has raised over $2 million. … The Corporate Innovation Award was presented to WorleyParsonsCord, which has supported the RDC fund since 2009. … The Calgary Flames Foundation is also a big supporter of the RDC fund and announced they it donate three scholarships each year to athletics. … Bell Canada is also a major sponsor and has made a major push to help with mental health.