Pic from sportsnet.ca

It’s not pain I remember; it’s fear.

In fact, it never hurt. Not from the moment the puck hit my jaw with a dull thud, to when I talked and the sides of my jaw moved independently, or when I woke up in wires, full of morphine.

But man, was I scared. Potential disfigurement, wires and surgeries, waiting for the pain I assumed was coming…everything about it was scary.

Last night, Dion Phaneuf got a slapshot in the face from much farther away than I did, and in a slightly better spot, but still, it was a scary sight to see. I thought of my incident when Sean Couturier got hit behind the ear just a couple weeks ago too.

Guys shoot the puck high by default now; that’s just the way it is. Goaltenders take away the bottom of the net using the butterfly, so if you’re a defenseman hoping to score goals, much like the goat in an Adam Sandler skit, your options are pretty f***in’ limited. Because of that, we’re not going to see less of these injuries, we’re going to see more. That’s a scary piece of logic right there.

I had passed the puck from the corner up to my own defenseman during the first shift of the second period in an ECHL game vs. Alaska (I was with the Idaho Steelheads, and it just happened to be my birthday). There were three skaters between me and the tender, so the plan was to hustle around that pile and get to the net for a screen.

The defenseman pulled the puck off the wall, and had zero defenders. He dragged it to the middle (as a good defenseman should), and headed down Broadway. Some guys in the ECHL don’t pass well. Some don’t skate well. Some don’t shoot well. This guy, unfortunately, did not have the latter problem.

He wound up to go top shelf with a clapper right as I beat the pile to the net, got to the front, and turned to see where the shot was coming from. That’s when it hit me in the side of the jaw without deflection. Just, clean.

I slid on the fresh ice from in front of the net to the far boards, conscious the whole way. I remember lying there face down, running my tongue over my no-longer intact bottom row of teeth, and saying the word ”okay,” as in, “okay, here we go.”

I knew I had a lot of misery ahead of me, so it was time to get off the ice and figure out what the hell was up with my face. I was scared, and irritated that the doctors in the medical room weren’t more urgent, interested or otherwise. I didn’t want “didn’t act soon enough” to be the reason I was missing half my face for the rest of my life.

In the end, my jaw had broken dead clean down the center of my chin, so the two sides moved independently. I have a four-screw X-shaped plate in there. On the side where the puck hit, it spider-webbed. I had a ten-screw plate there which was eventually removed due to multiple infections (and I lost a chunk of bone in the process).

Here’s me three days later:

You can almost read "made in Slovakia" on the puck mark

I drank liquid oxycodone like it was water for an extended period of time, and I started the now defunct blog jtbourne.wordpress.com to fill the months I was mostly wired-up and couch-bound, unable to exert any energy. I never played another professional hockey game, and suddenly find myself doing this full time.

When I watch professional hockey now, three years later, I wince every time I see guys bomb a puck into a mass of traffic and hope for a “seeing-eye” goal.

The game isn’t going to change. Maybe in twenty years guys will rock full cages and we won’t have to worry so much, but that’s decades from being a reality. For now, we accept there’s a risk of injury when you play the game, and it can happen to anyone.

Unfortunately, inevitably, it’s going to start happening to more people.

Somewhere along the way I read an article about a different puck that wouldn’t do so much damage (though I have no idea how that’d be possible). People like myself have railed for mandatory visors. Someday something will have to change because of a grim reality: we’re just stepping into the newest injury trend that, while infrequent, can and will be gruesome. It’s a prediction I’m not excited to make.

But, Dion Phaneuf is set to make his return tomorrow night, by all accounts. He got lucky. I just fear that someday, with the strength of players, the quality of sticks and our need to shoot high, that someone out there may not be as lucky as he and I were.

Comments (8)

  1. I am that someone.

  2. I was squirming in my seat through the entirety of this article. While I doubt it will ever happen, anyone think the league should look into banning the use of composite sticks instead of mandatory visors in the future? I know it’s a bit random, but I’m curious about the effect it would have after seeing Adam Graves rocking a real twig at the Winter Classic Alumni Game.

  3. I know this’ll never happen, since even mandatory visors are — for reasons unknown to me — a contentious issue. But why not go to the full cages, like in the lower (college, etc) levels? With composite sticks and a change in shooting style, it wouldn’t be the worst idea.

    • they are grown man, they can make decisions on their own, they dont need mandatory visors or even cages, they know the risks

      • You know, the more and more I hear this argument, the more ridiculous it becomes. “They’re grown men”…it’s not just you, Brado. I hear this all the time. Twenty years ago, I’d agree…shots weren’t as hard, players weren’t as fast, I get it. But with all the advancements, both in stick technology, and just evolution in general, everything’s faster and harder; the shots, the shooters, and the goalies.

        For a league that wants to cut down on serious injuries, visors should have been a must years ago. And how many players who have been against visors their whole careers, suddenly get hit in the eye with a stick, or between the eyes with a puck, and suddenly change their tune? For them, it’s just as it was with helmets (which also took far too long to require): They don’t want to look “soft” or “weak” to their teammates by wearing them. Granted, visors are on the rise, but it’s mainly from the newbies coming up, rather than veterans deciding to go with a change.

        At some point, it’s not going to cost a player their eyesight, or their hearing. It’s going to cost someone their life.

  4. Every time I see a guy take a puck to the face, I unconsciously flinch and think about Jeremy Roenick getting his face shattered in 2004. I still can’t believe he came back for the playoffs that year, and played four more seasons. When Bryan McCabe got hit last season, I thought it was going to be that kind of damage, but he got lucky and it was pretty much healed by the end of the season.

    About the only thing I hate seeing more is someone who doesn’t wear a visor getting hit in the face (yeah, Chris Pronger and Marty St. Louis, I’m talking about you).

  5. Agree that adults get to make their own decisions, even when they are very stupid ones. But at some point, a semi-intelligent person has to ask himself what his vision and teeth are worth.

    I’ve never worn one, but I like the full cage/mask idea. And if 2 playuhs want to fight, then they remove their headgear and have at it. Which is how it should be now anyway.

  6. I still don’t understand this new trend.

    When I was young, as a defenceman we were taught to shoot no higher than about 2 feet off the ice. We were bawled at if we shot high. The idea being, its not us trying to score, we are supposed to be giving forwards something to tip. Or in fact increase the chance that it would cannon off something and go in.

    From that distance out, on the point, it was felt that a good goalie would save it no matter how good the shot, so you needed it to be tipped or deflected.

    It used to be the case that most coaches would preach this as the high percentage play. I’m pretty sure most commentators and *cough* Don Cherry, have advocated this approach quite often.

    I know my forwards would come over and punch me in the face themselves if I hit them in the head because I shot high from the point!

    I don’t know if the stats are even out there, but it would be interesting if some of your stats minded reporters could look into this trend and see if shooting high or low is the true high percentage play in the NHL these days.

    Problem being you would have to take into account goals not scored by defencemen, but that were tipped from their shots. I don’t even know if the NHL keeps stats on where goals were scored from and into which part of the net.

    For my money, shooting low from the point for the deflection is the percentage play to make!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *