Hockey helmets don’t protect the neck — as these players found out
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Professional sports often have a high risk for injury, and the potential for serious life-threatening injury does exist. As professional sports have become more intense over the years, so have the efforts to protect players from injury.
The equipment has improved in order to protect players from injuries and prevent the potential damage that threatens to end winning seasons and careers.
Professional hockey is no exception. One of the most substantial pieces of equipment to prevent harm are helmets and face shields. Starting with the 2013 hockey season, new players were required to wear helmets with visors. Those professional players with more than 26 games in their professional careers could choose to not use the visors.
But these important pieces of equipment do not fully protect the face and neck. This was shockingly apparent during a recent game with the New Jersey Devils when Boston Bruins player Adam McQuaid encountered his teammate David Backes' skate blade. The result was a slashed neck.
David Backes’ skate catches Adam McQuaid in the neck/face pic.twitter.com/IkZI2f5LpB— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) March 5, 2017
At first, McQuaid was not even aware that the skate had broken deeply into his skin. The cut was serious enough to require 25 stitches.
"Initially I didn't see a ton of blood or anything, figured I was OK," McQuaid said. "But definitely a really close call. Couldn't help but thank God that it wasn't a scarier situation."
Earlier this season, the skate of Toronto's James van Riemsdyk slashed the throat of Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury. The injury was not as gruesome as the McQuaid slash, and Fleury immediately returned to the ice to play.
Neither cut was as serious as the life-threatening throat slash that almost took the life of goalie Clint Malarchuk in 1989. The incident occurred during a game being played between Malarchuk's team, the Buffalo Sabres, and the St. Louis Blues and was being broadcast live on television.
Malarchuk's injury was deep enough to cut a major blood vessel, and it was estimated that as much as three pints of blood pulsed out onto the ice. Sabres team trainer Jim Puzzutelli reacted quickly to pinch the severed artery. The injury required 300 stitches.
Malarchuk survived and continued his professional hockey career. He did have a tumultuous life and acknowledges the physical and emotional scars the event left on him. He has even co-authored a book about it — "A Matter of Inches: How I Survived in the Crease and Beyond."
Malarchuk discusses in the book the role that Puzzutelli played in saving his life. He described how Puzzutelli had served in Vietnam and was trained in sports medicine. This led to the moments when Puzzutelli was able to remain calm and take the actions to prevent even more blood loss and thus prevent Mlarchuk from dying from the injury.
Many goalies in professional hockey now wear neck protection, although it is not required. What is clear is that improvements in equipment and well-trained medical professionals are important components to safe play in professional sports.
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