Erik Karlsson had his achilles tendon slashed and severed by the skate of Matt Cooke. The reigning Norris Trophy winner is done for the season, but the injury could have been worse. Much worse.
This is of little solace to Senators’ fans, who woke up Thursday to the reality that their team will be without its most dynamic player as the Sens attempt to make the playoffs for the second year in a row.
It was a freak injury, but as freak injuries go it was pretty tame – and it was far from horrific. There was no blood visible as Karlsson made his way off the ice, amazingly under his own power. There were no covered eyes among the spectators. No collective gasp.
Only one NHL player has ever died as a direct result of an on-ice injury. Bill Masterton of the Minnesota North Stars, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, struck his head on the ice after being sandwiched by two members of the California Golden Seals in 1968. Masterton was bleeding from his ears, nose and mouth as he was rushed to hospital. 30 hours later his was taken off life support and passed away. He was 29 and in his first NHL season.
The most horrifying skate injury in NHL history occurred in March 1989 when the skate of St. Louis’ Steve Tuttle severed the jugular of Buffalo goalie Clint Malarchuk. The netminder thought he was going to die right there on the ice, but the Buffalo trainer applied a towel to the wound, saving his life. He went to hospital where he required 300 stitches to close the wound. Malarchuk, who later suffered from depression as a result of the accident, returned to practice only four days later.
More recently – and again in Buffalo – Richard Zednik of the Panthers suffered a sickening injury in 2008 when a teammate’s skate struck his neck, cutting his carotid artery. It was a gruesome sight as Zednik left the ice, a trail of blood following him. Zednik underwent surgery that night and missed the rest of the season. He did, however, returned for the beginning of the 2008-09 season.
Several players have had their faces slashed by errant skates. In 1986, Borje Salming required more than 200 stitches after the skate of Detroit’s Gerard Gallant accidentally struck him in the face. A more recent accident of the freak variety occurred last season when Taylor Hall fell in the pre-game warmup and has his face cut by the skate of teammate Corey Potter. The wound required a mere 30 stitches and Hall played the next game with aid of special protection to prevent the stitches from opening up.
The Ottawa Senators organization – including owner Eugene Melnyk – has been very critical of the incident, accusing Cooke of intentionally injuring their star defenceman. While I can understand their frustration, such verbal assaults are uncalled for. It was, after all, an unfortunate hockey play that could have happened between any two players. The Sens, in fact, should consider themselves fortunate that Karlsson’s injury wasn’t more severe, given the history of skates meeting flesh in the NHL.