Florida Panthers forward Richard Zednik is recovering from lifesaving surgery after severing his carotid artery during a game.
The player’s agent told The Associated Press on Monday that Zednik is recovering at a Buffalo hospital. Zednick lost a drastic amount of blood Sunday during the game against the Sabres. He accidentally was sliced across the right side of the throat by teammate Olli Jokinen’s skate.
Agent David Schatia didn’t have more details because he had just arrived from an overseas trip.
“The surgery was successful and he’s resting comfortably in the hospital,” Panthers spokesman Brian Goldman said.
Canada’s Sportsnet cable-TV network reported on its Web site that the skate blade just missed cutting the jugular vein.
Blood gushed from Zednik’s neck after he was hurt midway through the third period of Buffalo’s 5-3 victory, creating a frightening moment that delayed the game for about 15 minutes. There was also a brief discussion about postponing the game altogether.
Zednik was behind the play and skating into the right corner of the Sabres’ zone, when Jokinen was upended by Sabres forward Clarke MacArthur. Jokinen fell head-first to the ice, and his right leg flew up and struck Zednik directly on the side of the neck.
Clutching his neck, Zednik raced to the Florida bench, leaving a long trail of blood. When he arrived, he nearly fell into the arms of a team trainer, who quickly applied a towel to the cut. Zednik was then helped off the ice by the trainer and teammate Jassen Cullimore, and escorted to the Panthers’ dressing room.
“We shouldn’t have finished the game,” Jokinen said. “I saw the replay, that it was my skate that hit him in the throat. I think we were all in shock. I’ve never seen anything like that. There are bigger things than [finishing the game]. It was terrifying.
“I didn’t think anyone on our team was thinking hockey out there after an injury like that. If it was my call, I would have gone to the hospital with him.”
Panthers spokesman Justin Copertino said Zednik was transported by ambulance to Buffalo General Hospital. Copertino said the team was making arrangements to have Zednik’s wife, Jessica, fly from South Florida to Buffalo by a charter flight Sunday night.
The team was scheduled to return to Miami, but assistant general manager Randy Sexton and assistant trainer Dave Zenobi planned to stay behind with Zednik, Copertino said.
Zednik’s injury left players and coaches on both benches stunned, and a silent hush fell over the crowd at HSBC Arena.
NHL vice president Colin Campbell consulted with Sabres general manager Darcy Regier and referee Bill McCreary in a tunnel after Zednik was loaded into an ambulance. Campbell, who was not available for comment, attended the game in part because his son, Gregory, plays for the Panthers.
In a statement, the NHL said that Campbell talked to commissioner Gary Bettman and decided to continue the game after knowing that Zednik was stable, that trainers had stopped the bleeding, and that the teams were willing to go on.
The league said: “The thoughts and prayers of the NHL family are with Richard Zednik, his loved ones, his teammates and the Florida Panthers organization.”
“I can fully understand if they wanted to cancel the whole game,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “It was pretty solemn. There wasn’t a lot being said [on the bench]. There was just more concern for Richard than anything else.
“When you see something like that, it isn’t about playing anymore. But I said, ‘We’re going to finish the game and it’s going to be what it’s going to be.'”
As crews scraped the blood from the ice and the surface was cleaned by Zambonis during the extended delay, the public address announcer said: “Richard Zednik is in stable condition and on his way to a Buffalo hospital.”
The crowd stood in applause during the announcement.
Several Florida players were shaken after seeing the gruesome injury.
“It’s something you never want to see,” Panthers center Stephen Weiss told The Miami Herald. “It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen in hockey. The worst went through my mind … Just his face [when he was] coming off [the ice], was just, you know, something you don’t want to see. I don’t know how to explain it, but it was a scary look. He looked very scared.”
Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun described the situation off the ice.
“I walked in and saw him on the stretcher,” Vokoun told The Herald. “I was very concerned when he came off. He was obviously very scared. He was conscious, I guess, that’s what the trainer said. His eyes were closed, but he was moving and moaning.”
Zednik’s injury was eerily reminiscent of an injury sustained by Sabres goaltender Clint Malarchuk about 19 years ago at Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium. On March 22, 1989, Malarchuk severed his jugular vein when St. Louis Blues forward Steve Tuttle was upended while skating toward the crease, slicing Malarchuk with a skate.
“I was back here watching, and I knew what it was right away,” Sabres longtime equipment manager Rip Simonick told The Buffalo News. “Just like that night.”
Malarchuk required over 300 stitches but spent only one night in the hospital, returning to practice after four days. On April 2, he played the final five minutes in the season finale, less than two weeks after his injury.
Panthers defenseman Steve Montador recalled seeing Zednik in a state of shock as he got to the bench.
“He looked pale, he was obviously standing and to a degree, coherent. But he didn’t look as focused as you or I right now. He was staring at nothing,” Montador said. “That’s a pretty brave guy to realize what’s going on: Grab your neck and get off the ice.”
Zednik has 15 goals and 11 assists this season.
Not for the faint of heart.