We’ve all heard the expression, “When you fall off a horse, you’ve got to get right back on.” In 1989, Buffalo goaltender Clint Malarchuk took that sentiment to a whole other level, following one of the most horrifying moments in televised sports history.
On March 22, 1989, the Buffalo Sabres were hosting the St. Louis Blues. Near the end of the first period, St. Louis’ Steve Tuttle and Buffalo’s Uwe Krupp both crashed into Malarchuk at full speed while chasing the puck. In a freak accident, Tuttle’s skate blade caught Malarchuk in the neck and sliced open his interior carotid artery. As players, fans, and personnel looked on in horror, blood sprayed from the goalie’s neck and quickly formed a large pool on the ice below him. Dozens of fans in attendance became physically ill at the sight, and several reportedly passed out. Television announcers were at a loss for words and could only plead to the cameramen to cut away. Trainers and medical staff on hand quickly set into motion and rushed to the ice to help. Malarchuk rose under his own power, and with a trainer’s help, skated for the nearest door off the ice, which was just behind the net. Luckily, this door led to where the on-site emergency room was located, though Malarchuk later revealed he had no intention of reaching the team doctor.
Malarchuk claimed that he was only trying to get off the ice and away from the TV cameras as quickly as possible because he knew that his mother was watching the game on TV, and he didn’t want her to see him die. He was so convinced he was about to die he told an equipment manager to call his mother and tell her that he loved her, and then asked for a priest. Instead of a priest, Malarchuk got quick-working medical staff, who were able to halt the bleeding and stabilize him for transport to a local hospital. Three-hundred stitches later, the wound was closed, and Malarchuk had survived, though quite narrowly. Had the cut occurred 1/8 of an inch higher on his carotid, doctors estimate he would have been dead in minutes. Also, had the accident happened in the second period, with Malarchuk at the opposite end of the ice from the medical room, he probably would not have made it.
While Malarchuk’s toughness surely played a role in his survival, real credit belongs to the trainers and medical staff who acted quickly to save his life. His toughness, though, came into play a surprisingly short time later. A mere four days after nearly dying on the ice, Malarchuk reported back to the Sabres for practice. A week after that, he was back between the pipes for a game against the Quebec Nordiques. “Doctors told me to take the rest of the year off,” he said. “But there’s no way…I play for keeps.”
WARNING: The following video of Malarchuck’s injury is extremely graphic. If you have a weak stomach or don’t like the sight of blood, you probably shouldn’t watch it. The second video is an interview conducted a few days later, which is rated G.
The injury: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dR-wA4SmbO4
The post-injury interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5ek_3zo8XM