Uploaded by: Martin Arnold
By Joe McDonald
Dec 19, 2019
Merry Xmas, Hammer
Scary moment offers a sharp reminder that in hockey, tools of the trade can be dangerous, too
David Backes learned at a young age just how much damage a skate blade could cause.
He was playing high school hockey for the Spring Lake Park Panthers in Minnesota when he witnessed an opposing player’s forearm stepped on by a skate.
It punctured an artery. The amount of blood on the ice was terrifying.
“It was squirting massively,” Backes recalled. “One of my teammates ripped his jersey off, tied it around as a tourniquet right on the ice and might have saved him. I get goosebumps talking about it. He ended up with a gnarly scar on his forearm, but the blood was squirting six to eight feet. Oh, I remember it and that was two, or three centuries ago.”
Backes was reminded once again how much harm skate blades can cause Thursday, during the Bruins’ 3-2 shootout loss to the New York Islanders at TD Garden. At the 14:47 mark of the third period, the Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron and the Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck were battling for a puck in front of Boston’s bench when Bergeron lost his balance and fell. His skate blade caught Clutterbuck on the left wrist and the forward’s scream could be heard throughout the arena.
Clutterbuck dropped his gloves and stick, quickly grabbed his left arm and sprinted to the bench. He was guided to the locker room and received stitches before being taken to Massachusetts General Hospital. He was later said to be OK.
Since signing with the Bruins, Backes has been cut twice by a skate blade, once on the face and another on the inside of his leg.
“Been in those shoes,” Backes said when asked about Clutterbuck. “We all know those skates are real sharp, so when you feel it come through you, or you see someone else, it’s a human thing at that point. We’ll pray for him and hopefully he’s mending well.”
Last December, the Bruins were hosting the Arizona Coyotes when Backes suffered a cut to the face. He was battling for a puck with defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson when his left skate cut Backes on the nose. Backes quickly skated to the bench, received stitches and fortunately was able to return to the game.
“The one on my face, it was kind of a panic,” Backes said. “As much as you’re a tough guy and you’re prepared for anything, when you feel that sharp skate and know you’re cut, you panic. First, you want to be OK and second you want to know what type of damage is done.
“I felt the skate hit me in the face and I saw the blood dripping. I didn’t need to touch it to know I was cut.”
Unfortunately, he wasn’t done with those feelings yet. On March 17, 2018, in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla., Backes suffered a nasty cut on his right leg after being struck by Yanni Gourde’s skate blade. Backes immediately knew something was wrong and quickly skated to the bench.
“I could see my leg and how much blood was on my sock, so I wanted to get to the bench and get to the medical professionals,” Backes remembers. “I could see blood right away and I felt the impact, so I knew it was cut and it was going to be significant.”
Players understand the risks involved in this game, so when they suffer a cut that needs attention, they skate off the ice.
“It’s instinctual. We know we’re faster on skates getting to the trainers than the trainers running on the ice, getting to us, especially after the play is stopped,” Backes said. “It was a good move by (Clutterbuck) to get to the bench. We could hear him screaming. It was a panic and he got to the pros right away to hopefully stop whatever was going on.”
Former Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid suffered a nasty cut during a game in March 2017. In fact, it was Backes’ skate blade that cut his teammate and McQuaid needed 25 stitches.
“I shaved his neck for him,” said Backes, though he couldn’t recall the extent of the injury. “I thought I skimmed him but didn’t cut him. Maybe I just tell myself that so I don’t find him hunting me someday.”
At the time, McQuaid didn’t think it was bad, because he didn’t see any blood. When he got to the bench, teammates saw how bad it was and told McQuaid to see the trainer.
Hockey equipment has evolved since the days when players skated with minimal pads and no helmets. Still, players often opt for less protection, potentially to their own detriment.
“We have protection for that but we choose not to wear it. Are we dumb? I don’t know,” Backes said half-jokingly. “Maybe it’s a badge of honor. We have to wear it until we’re 18 years old, then we take it off and see how many teeth we can lose and how many scars we can get. Maybe it’s shame on us.”
The worst cut in NHL history occurred in 1989 when Buffalo Sabres goalie Clint Malarchuk had his jugular vein sliced by the skate blade of the St. Louis Blues’ Steve Tuttle. Fortunately, Malarchuk survived the life-threatening injury. Today, he comes to mind anytime a player is cut by a skate blade.
Despite Thursday’s loss to the Islanders, the Bruins were concerned for Clutterbuck’s well-being after the game.
“You never like to see that and hopefully it doesn’t happen more frequently than it already does,” Backes said.