Jump to content
  • entries
  • comments
  • views

On the Edge of Life and Death




We all know that hockey can be a dangerous game. Anyone who has watched the sport for any significant amount of time has no doubt witnessed at least one fairly significant injury. Those injuries can sideline a player for weeks or months, and can sometimes even end a career. In 1989, an injury nearly cost Clint Malarchuk his life. This is his story and the story of the miracle workers that saved his life.


Malarchuk was a new member of the Sabres, having been traded from the Washington Capitals barely two weeks earlier. Malarchuk was never a superstar, but he was more than solid, finishing in the top 10 of Vezina Trophy voting twice and leading the league in shutouts in 1988-89. The sample size is small, but the numbers show that he was playing the best hockey of his career for the Sabres that season, as he put up a .908 save percentage and a 2.39 goals against average – outstanding numbers for that era – in seven appearances. The Sabres had plenty of reason to be excited about their new acquisition.


Then, it all nearly ended in tragedy. Malarchuk’s teammate Uwe Krupp and Steve Tuttle of the visiting St. Louis Blues collided in from of the Sabres’ net. During the collision, one of Tuttle’s skate blades went up and made a six inch gash in the right side of Malarchuk’s neck, cutting his carotid artery and jugular. I will not post a link to the video here, but suffice it to say, the result was gruesome. I will give a warning to those that decide to search that it is not for the faint of heart. Reports are that eleven fans fainted, two more had heart attacks, and three players vomited on the ice after witnessing the event.


Malarchuk’s first thought was that he had to get off of the ice. “My mother was watching the game on TV, and I didn't want her to see me die.” Once he was helped from the rink, he asked an equipment manager to call his mother and tell her that he loved her, and asked for a priest.


Malarchuk was convinced he was dying, and if not for a couple of breaks, he would have. Had the cut been merely one-quarter of an inch deeper, he would have died instantly. Had the team’s trainer been anyone other than Jim Pizzutelli, he likely would have died as well. Pizzutelli had served as an Army medic in Vietnam, which allowed him to keep his composure and prepared him to deal with Malarchuk’s injury. “I was in Vietnam. I`ve seen blood before.”


Once Malarchuk was in the locker room, which Pizzutelli said took just seconds because of the goalie’s incredible composure throughout the incident, the trainer applied his full body weight to the Malarchuk’s collarbone by kneeling on him to restrict the blood flow to the injury. When Malarchuk needed a breath, Pizzutelli would release the pressure just long enough to allow Malarchuk to breath, and then reapply it.


The quick thinking and knowhow of Pizzutelli stabilized Malarchuk until he could be taken to the hospital for surgery. In the ambulance, Malarchuk asked the paramedics if they could get him back to the arena in time for the third period.


It took over 300 stitches to seal the wound, and Malarchuk lost 1.5 litres of blood, but that was only the beginning of his struggles. He had long struggled with obsessive compulsive disorder, and the injury amplified that. He battled alcoholism and nightmares, and his play declined, leading him to retire from the NHL. He continued playing in the IHL and started coaching once he retired from play.


Sadly, the ghosts of the incident resurfaced years later in 2008, when Richard Zednik suffered a similar, though somewhat less severe, injury to Malarchuk’s. The former goalie initially refused to watch the footage of Zednik’s injury, but eventually did watch it, leading him to seek treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder later that year. That October, Malarchuk suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound that was initially described as an accident while hunting rabbits. When paramedics arrived, they reported Malarchuk to be uncooperative. Later, he and his wife Joan both admitted that the incident was a suicide attempt and that contrary to the drug instructions, he was using alcohol while taking his OCD medications. Following treatment for his injuries, Malarchuk spent six months in rehab for OCD, PTSD, and alcoholism.


Today, Malarchuk uses his personal experiences to reach out to others suffering from the afflictions he has battled. He wrote an autobiography that goes by the titles “The Crazy Game” and “A Matter of Inches.” The book deals with the problems that he has dealt with since the skate blade incident, and he and Joan have become public speakers to help others dealing with the same problems.


Life has a way of throwing curveballs, and as Clint Malarchuk can tell you, some of them can be extremely difficult to battle. But his life also shows that even the most difficult of circumstances can be overcome, and can be used to help others. That is something far bigger than hockey. Clint Malarchuk might not have ever laced up his skates in an All-Star game, and he may not be in the Hall of Fame, but he is a winner. Anyone who overcomes the troubles he did and uses it to reach out to others is pure winner.


Recommended Comments

He has faced his share of demons off the ice since the end of his career, a failed suicide attempt, a life that he has freely admitted has spiraled out of control with substances on more than one occasion. From what I read recently he is doing well in life now, and I wish him all the luck in the world.

Link to comment

Very nice summary. It's that move from tragedy to triumph that made me decide to tell his story. People get so caught up in their difficulties and sometimes decide to give up. Malarchuk proved that while it may be tough, it is possible to fight through. He's trying to help others see that now, and I think he deserves to have that known.

Link to comment
Add a comment...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...