If you are a sports fan here in North America, then you are incredibly fortunate, because you have direct access to all four of the world’s biggest and most popular professional sports leagues. Whether it be football, baseball, hockey, or basketball, there will always be young people who will want to play at the professional level, despite the discouraging fact that only a handful of the very best individuals can ever find themselves in one of the four leagues. Aside from the fact that most people are unable to keep up with the physical and mental demands of professional sports, there is another factor that prevents the majority of people from becoming professional athletes, and that would be the fear of getting seriously injured.
It does not matter whether you play in the NFL, MLB, NBA, or NHL, each league comes with its own set of dangers, as evidenced by the amount of concussions we are seeing throughout the sports landscape. When it comes to the NHL specifically though, the chances of getting injured, even with all the padding and helmets, is actually still pretty high, because of all the hitting involved, all the pucks flying through the air, the sticks, the icy playing surface, the hard boards, and the sharp skates on the players’ feet. Each and every season, there are dozens of players who find themselves getting injured from a variety of reasons, and sometimes, those injuries appear to be very bad, and the purpose of this list is to identify 15 of those hockey injuries that today are still incredibly gruesome to watch.
15. Chara Hitting Pacioretty Into The Stanchion
The Montreal Canadiens are the most successful and historic team in the NHL, and because of that, it should come as no surprise that they have had their fair share of great captains, a position that is currently held by Max Pacioretty who has been with the team since 2008. As of right now, Pacioretty is probably Montreal’s most important forward, but on March 8, 2011, people all over the hockey world feared that his career and life were in jeopardy after he was hit by Boston Bruins’ captain, Zdeno Chara during a game. Chara delivered a check to Pacioretty, which caused the Habs forward to hit the stanchion at the end of the Bruins bench face first. The hit left Pacioretty unconscious for several moments, and left him with a serious concussion and fractured vertebrae that caused him to miss the rest of the season.
14. Kurtis Foster’s Broken Femur
For the past couple of seasons, the NHL has been using a hybrid icing system in order to keep their players safe, because prior to this system, two players would race towards the boards to get to the puck, a play that sometimes resulted in someone getting seriously injured. Former NHL defenseman Kurtis Foster is probably the best example of why the icing rules were changed, because in March of 2008, while racing to beat an icing, he was slammed into the boards, and went down immediately in excruciating pain. The check caused Foster to crack his kneecap, and it also caused his femur to literally shatter into three pieces. In order to treat this injury, Foster spent 9 hours in surgery, where a rod and several screws were inserted into his leg, which caused him to miss over a year of action.
13. Trent McCleary Taking A Shot To The Throat
Shot blocking is an integral part of the game of hockey, and it is far more dangerous than you might think, because some of those shots can travel more than 100 mph. With shots that fast, it is not surprising that there have been players who have gotten hurt while going in for a block, and on January 29, 2000, winger Trent McCleary was on the receiving end of the one of the worst shot blocking injuries in league history. While playing for Montreal, McCleary dove to block a slapshot from Philadelphia defenseman, Chris Therien, but instead of hitting his body, the puck hit McCleary in the throat. The force of the impact fractured his larynx, and caused one of his lungs to collapse, which forced him to get rushed to the hospital where he received a life-saving emergency tracheotomy. McCleary needed several other surgeries in order to speak again, but was forced to retire due to breathing problems caused by his air passage being narrowed by 15%.
12. Ryan Hollweg Getting Hit In The Face By Chris Simon
Normally, whenever there is any kind of bad blood between rival hockey players, they will settle things the honorable way by dropping the gloves and fighting each other, but sometimes, there are players who just want to deliver cheap shots. Ryan Hollweg is a winger who played in the NHL for parts of five seasons, most of which were spent with the New York Rangers, and on March 8, 2007, he was on the receiving end of a cheap shot when Islanders forward Chris Simon slashed him in the face with his stick. Apparently, Hollweg had checked Simon in a way he did not like, so in response, he swung his stick like a baseball bat, which dropped Hollweg immediately. In the end, Hollweg required several stitches to close the wound, while Simon was suspended for 25 games.
11. Scott Stevens’ Hit On Paul Kariya
The Anaheim Ducks have made it to the Stanley Cup Final twice in their history, with the second appearance resulting in a championship win in 2007, but they also made the 2003 Final where they lost to the New Jersey Devils. It is quite possible that Anaheim would have won the Cup that year too had Paul Kariya, arguably their best forward, not been hit by Devils defenseman Scott Stevens in the 6th game. Now, Stevens is known as one of the hardest hitting and most physical players in NHL history, and during the game, he hit Kariya straight in the jaw, which knocked him out cold and saw him lying on the ice motionless for several minutes. There was no penalty on the play, and Kariya ended up missing several months thanks to a concussion. Following the injury, he was never the same player again.
10. Bryan Berard Taking A Stick To The Eye
Bryan Berard was a defenseman who managed to play in the NHL for 11 seasons, where he played in 619 games and scored 76 goals and 323 points, but he was incredibly lucky that he did not only get to play in five seasons. On March 11, 2000, Berard was with the Maple Leafs, and while playing against Ottawa, Senators forward Marian Hossa raised his stick and hit Berard in his right eye, which caused the defenseman to drop to the ice, where a pool of blood began to form beneath him. The injury left Berard with a cut cornea, a detached retina, and a fractured orbital bone, all of which nearly caused him to lose the eye entirely, but after seven surgeries, he was able to save both his vision and his career by getting a new lens placed into his eye to meet the NHL’s vision requirement.
9. McSorley Chopping Donald Brashear
Donald Brashear played in the NHL for parts of 16 seasons, and over the span of his career, he managed to become one of the most effective enforcers in league history, which means that he was not that good on offence. In the 1999-00 season, Brashear played with the Vancouver Canucks, and on February 21, they played against the Boston Bruins, who at the time had their own enforcer in the form of Marty McSorley, who with 3 seconds left in the game, hit Brashear in the head with his stick. Immediately after the hit, Brashear’s head hit the ice, which left him with a serious concussion, and the NHL punished McSorley for the act by suspending him for the rest of the season, and ironically, it also turned out to be his final NHL game. He was also sentenced to 18 months probation after being found guilty for criminal assault for the hit.
8. Gordie Howe’s Fractured Skull
In every sport there are legends, and hockey is no different, with names like Wayne Gretzky and Maurice Richard, but even they would admit that the late Gordie Howe was possibly the greatest player to ever live. Howe played professional hockey until the age of 52, and in that lengthy career, he won four Stanley Cups along with multiple other awards, and to this day, he still holds several NHL records. His legendary career was primarily spent with the Red Wings, but his career was almost cut short in 1950 when he fractured his skull after crashing into the boards head first during a playoff game against the Maple Leafs. Howe was unconscious for a long time, and was rushed to the hospital where he underwent emergency surgery to relieve the pressure on his brain, but as serious as the injury was, it did not stop Howe from returning the following season, where he won his first of four consecutive Art Ross Trophies.
7. Jiri Fischer Going Into Cardiac Arrest
With this entry, we do not really have a “hockey injury,” as the incident revolved around a player’s pre-existing medical condition, however it was still pretty traumatic as it occurred during a game. Jiri Fischer was a defenseman who played the entirety of his NHL career with the Red Wings, and thanks to a heart abnormality, he literally died for 30 seconds on November 21, 2005, after going into cardiac arrest on the bench during a game against the Nashville Predators. With Fischer being rushed to the hospital, the game was cancelled and rescheduled seeing as no player or fan present could get over what they had seen. Although his career was ended by this incident, his life was saved, and he now works within the Red Wings organization as a scout and member of the player development team.
6. Richard Zednik’s Slashed Throat
Hockey is a dangerous sport, as evidenced by all the previous entries on this list, and although getting hit into the boards, or getting hit by a puck or stick can be devastating, a player can literally die if a skate gets anywhere near their head. Forward Richard Zednik played in the NHL for 14 seasons, and in 2008, he found himself with the Florida Panthers, and in a game against the Buffalo Sabres, his teammate Olli Jokinen was knocked down during a play, which caused his skate to come up, thereby accidentally cutting Zednik’s throat. The skate cut Zednik’s carotid artery, which caused blood to spray onto the ice, and after being rushed to the hospital, it took an hour-long surgery to reconnect the artery. Zednik missed the rest of that season, and returned the following year for what was his final NHL season, and he was incredibly lucky because the skate had barely missed his jugular, which would have killed him within minutes.
5. Borje Salming’s Face Getting Stepped On
Since the beginning, the NHL has consisted of mainly North American born players, but over the past 40 years, the league has brought in a lot more European talent, with former defensema, Borje Salming being the catalyst for the influx of Europeans. Salming joined the league in 1973, and after a very successful 17-year career, he was later inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996. When he was in his prime, Salming was viewed as one of the league’s top blue liners, but in 1986, he caused many Maple Leaf fans to worry after he suffered a terrible looking injury in a game against the Detroit Red Wings. During the game, Detroit forward Gerard Gallant accidentally stepped on Salming’s face while the Swede was lying in front of the goal, an injury that required facial surgery, and at least 250 stitches.
4. The Steve Moore Incident
In hockey, it is pretty common for opposing players to get into altercations with each other, for any number of reasons, but sometimes those altercations get out of hand, like what happened in the Steve Moore incident. Moore was a forward who played in the NHL for four seasons, all of which were spent with the Colorado Avalanche, and midway through the 3rd period of the February 16th game against the Vancouver Canucks in 2004, he was sucker punched from behind by Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi, who also drove him into the ice in retaliation for an earlier hit against Vancouver’s captain. Moore remained motionless on the ice for 10 minutes before being stretchered off, and went on to never play another game thanks to sustaining a severe concussion and three broken vertebrae. Bertuzzi was suspended for the rest of that season, and pleaded guilty to criminal assault causing bodily harm, and later reached an agreement with Moore in a civil suit in 2014.
3. Howie Morenz’s Broken Leg
No matter the sport, there is always a chance that an athlete will sustain a life threatening injury, and most of time, those athletes will be able to continue their careers, but sometimes, their careers just cannot be saved. Howie Morenz is still viewed as a legend within the Canadiens franchise, even though he played his final game on January 28, 1937, a game which saw him crash leg first into the boards. The skate of that leg got caught in the board’s siding, and when the opposing defender was unable to stop himself, he collided with Morenz, fracturing his leg in four places in the process. The fracture ended Morenz’s career, and while recovering in hospital, he fell into a deep depression that led to a nervous breakdown, and two months later, he suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 34.
2. Clint Malarchuk’s Slashed Throat
Clint Malarchuk was a goalie who played in the NHL for parts of 11 seasons, where in 338 games, he managed to earn 141 wins while recording 12 shutouts and posting a 3.47 goals against average. Most of Malarchuk’s time was spent with the Quebec Nordiques, but he also played for Buffalo, and while in net for the Sabres in 1989, he suffered an injury similar to Richard Zednik, when a pair of players got tangled up and fell on top of him, and during the little collision, an opposing player’s skate accidentally cut Malarchuk’s throat. The skate severed his carotid artery and cut into his jugular, which caused him to bleed heavily onto the ice, and he would have undoubtedly died that day if it were not for Buffalo’s trainer racing over to temporarily stabilize the wound while paramedics prepared to rush him to the hospital.
1. Bill Masterton’s Death
Since 1968, the NHL has given the Bill Masterton Memorial Award to the player who best demonstrates perseverance and dedication to the game of hockey, and it is named in honor of former player Bill Masterton, who died on January 15, 1968. At the time of his death, Masterton was a forward for the Minnesota North Stars, and while playing against the Oakland Seals, he was hit by two of the opposition’s defensemen, a hit that caused him to fall backwards, thereby landing on the ice with his head. Masterton was knocked out cold, and briefly came to before quickly losing consciousness again. Masterton would never wake up again, as he died from the injury 30 hours later, making him the only player in NHL history to die from injury sustained during a game.
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