For awhile, the National Hockey League branded themselves as the “fastest game on Earth.”
While true, they could have just as easily switched out the word “fastest” with the word “vicious.”
Ask anyone who isn’t familiar with the sport what they think of ten men confined in a 200-foot sheet of ice with no out of bounds while armed with wooden sticks and given permission to pound on each other without gloves on when tempers flare, and they’d probably call that concept (and probably you) insane.
Alas, hockey is what it is – a game built on speed, precision and quick-twitch reflexes, as many sports are, with an added twist of unique violence that nearly all sports outside of football cannot claim.
While many loathe the vicious nature of the sport (although it has admittedly been toned down over the past decade), others crave it and live for it. People can say what they want about fighting in the NHL, but when the crowd stands up as the gloves hit the ice, the people aren’t yelling for the players to stop – they’re cheering them on.
All that being said, a sport that moves at breakneck speed will often result in major impacts or errant collisions that have caused severe damage to pretty heavily armored athletes. While every hockey fan loves a big hit or a knockout punch, these injuries can often derail careers, or worse, end them.
*WARNING: Some of these videos are quite graphic, so discretion is advised.
15. Marc Staal
If this video doesn’t convince you to at least wear a half visor – if not a full cage – there’s not much else that will.
One of the steadiest defenseman in the league nearly had it all end after a puck changed directions a few times and caught Marc Staal right in the eye. His reaction alone is enough to make one squirm in their chair a little. Staal was nearly blinded by the shot and ultimately the incident resulted in the NHL making visors mandatory for players entering the league. Before long, every player will have one on.
14. Tomas Vokoun
Hands down the strangest injury you’ll see on this list and if you don’t know where this is going yet, you’ll understand after you watch the video.
What Keith Ballard was thinking, no one will ever know. The situation went from laughable to frightening fairly quickly, however, as Vokoun was badly bloodied by the vicious slash and had to be taken off on a stretcher. Vokoun just could not catch break when it came to injuries over his NHL career, be it this incident or blood clots that nearly cost him his life, among others.
13. Donald Brashear
Marty McSorley was a known goon, but he took his role a step too far when he “evened the score” with Canucks enforcer Donald Brashear in a game between Boston and Vancouver back on February 21st, 2000.
Brashear was out cold and severely concussed from the impact of the stick and his head bouncing off the ice, but he was able to make a full recovery and play out a long NHL career. Still, the moment in itself was quite scary as Brashear lay motionless on the ice for several minutes.
12. Bryan Berard
An established, talented NHL rearguard before he even got to Toronto, Bryan Berard had just about everything going for him. His ascension to stardom continued in Maple Leaf blue and white, but that all changed in a flash on March 11th, 2000.
Berard was clipped in the eye on the follow through of a Marian Hossa shot, severely injuring it to the point where he almost had to have it removed. Berard was able to return from the injury, but was never the same player.
11. Nick Kypreos
Nick Kypreos earned his spot in the NHL by being a tough customer, but even a jaw as tested as his couldn’t withstand the haymaker that ultimately ended his professional hockey career.
Kypreos took a massive left from the Rangers Ryan Vandenbussche and was out cold before he hit the ground. His head then cracked against the ice, creating a bloody mess under him as trainers rushed out to his side. The punch and subsequent fall led to a serious concussion that left him with post-concussion syndrome, forcing him to hang up the skates for good.
10. Mikael Renberg
Like in many other sports, you’ll often hear the term “game of inches” used to describe a tight game or a close call. An important shot off the post, a puck that slide just wide of the net – or a skate blade that nearly ends a man’s life.
One of the “forgotten” members of the famed Legion of Doom line, Mikael Renberg nearly never got a chance to return to hockey – let alone his everyday life – thanks to a couple of inches. While the errant skate of Senators forward Randy Cunneyworth missed Renberg’s major arteries, it still sliced through his chin, lips and nose, and created a gash that took over 200 stitches to close.
9. Marc Savard
You knew Matt Cooke was going to show up on this list at some point. It was just a matter of where and when.
One could argue that this hit was the one that sparked the NHL’s desire to finally do something about head shots in the sport. A clear “chicken wing,” late, head-hunting hit by Matt Cooke ended Marc Savard’s career, one that he tried tirelessly to revive, but one that would always be marred by post-concussion syndrome.
8. Ian Laperriere
Some would say that only a fool would throw their unprotected face in front of a piece of vulcanized rubber travelling at 100 miles per hour – and they’d probably be right. For Ian Laperriere, though, it was always “help the team first, worry about the body later.”
Unfortunately for Laperriere, his fearless style of play took him one step too far over the line between brave and reckless as he practically threw his head in front of a Paul Martin slap shot that caught him flush in the forehead and effectively ended his NHL career. He did come back for later rounds of that season’s playoff run, but did not suit up again after the 2010 season.
7. Trent McCleary
I usually stay away from writing myself into an entry, but I couldn’t help myself in this situation.
On January 29th, 2000, I was in attendance for the game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Philadelphia Flyers with my dad. I was nearly eight years old. I don’t remember many games I attended from my early childhood, but I remember this one vividly. Because I, along with everyone else in the building, almost watched Trent McCleary die.
Doctors later said McCleary came within moments of dying and he credits the swift action of the Canadiens trainers and doctors for saving his life.
6. Kurtis Foster
If you’ve ever wondered where the NHL got its inspiration to implement hybrid icing, here it is:
Kurtis Foster of the Minnesota Wild and then San Jose Sharks forward Torrey Mitchell were racing after an iced puck when Mitchell – seemingly inadvertently based on his reaction – collided with Foster and sent him crashing into the end boards, breaking his femur and ending Foster’s season.
While Foster was able to return to play, complications stemming from his injury and the subsequent surgery not only almost cost Foster his leg – it almost cost him his life.
5. Max Pacioretty
The home of the Montreal Canadiens, the Bell Centre, is one of the loudest building in the NHL – but on March 8th, 2011, you could hear a pin drop as a fan-base sat in stunned silence.
Skating towards a loose puck, Pacioretty and Bruins behemoth Zdeno Chara advanced towards the teams benches at top speed. Pacioretty corralled the puck and tried to slip past Chara, but as he did Chara pushed Pacioretty into the stanchion which separated the two teams. Pacioretty’s head slammed violently against a part of the boards that was not designed to give on impact and he was out cold before he hit the ground.
Pacioretty managed to recover relatively quickly from a severe concussion and fractured vertebra, but many who were in the building and watching on TV that night will always remember being worried that it may have ended his career.
4. Richard Zednik
Richard Zednik will be remembered for a lot of different reasons – they offensive talent, the crafty goal-scoring ability, the flowing hair, and the deep scar across the side of his neck.
In an eerily similar fashion to another devastating neck injury suffered in Buffalo many years before, Zednik was caught up high by a teammate Olli Jokinen’s skate blade, hitting a carotid artery and painting the ice red as Zednik rushed to the bench before nearly collapsing in teammates and doctors arms as they rushed him to the room.
3. Eric Lindros
Arguably the most complete and highly-touted prospect in NHL history outside of Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby and even Connor McDavid, Eric Lindros was a force to be reckoned with, as a hockey talent and as a physical presence. Unfortunately, some of the big hits he took over the course of his career shattered any hopes of Lindros truly solidifying himself as one of the most dominant players of all time, as concussions plagued him and never allowed him to reach his full potential.
One of those concussions was suffered as a result of this massive hit by Scott Stevens, a dominant player in his own right, as Stevens was known for laying out opponents in ways beyond anything anyone had ever seen – or felt.
2. Steve Moore
In what was perhaps the most gutless and vicious act by a hockey player in the past twenty years, it ended as badly as it could have possibly ended for Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche.
After refusing several offers to fight from Vancouver Canucks players looking to exact some measure of revenge on Moore for his hit on Markus Naslund earlier in the season, Todd Bertuzzi decided to take matters into his own hands and sucker punch Moore in the back of the head and neck before driving Moore’s head into the ice. Moore broke his neck and was concussed, injuries which ended his NHL career before it barely got the chance to get going.
1. Clint Malarchuk
Nothing will ever come close (we hope, at least) to “topping” what happened to Clint Malarchuk on March 22nd, 1989.
St. Louis Blues forward Steve Tuttle was driving to the net on the rush when he was upended and sent sprawling into the Sabres goaltender. In the process, Tuttle’s razor sharp blade got elevated and caught Malarchuk’s jugular vein. Malarchuk came close to succumbing to the injury, but battled through it and even returned to the NHL, but was ultimately never the same, as he was continuously affected by the injury, on and off the ice.
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