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Clint Malarchuk’s emotional journey after two life-threatening moments

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When most hockey fans think of former NHL goalie Clint Malarchuk, there’s that indelible (and unsettling) image of him getting his throat slashed by an errant skate. Malarchuk needed 300 stitches to close up a jugular wound that left audience members fainting and gave two people heart attacks on that unshakeable day on March 22, 1989.

Yet the remarkable thing about that horrifying incident was that Malarchuk seemingly bounced right back from that incident. He even managed to joke around about that incident during a radio interview with fellow goalie Gerry Cheevers just a few days later, comparing the moment to slaughtering cattle by saying “I was ready to moo out there.”

Malarchuk barely missed a week of game time as the Buffalo Sabres’ goalie after that incident, making him arguably Exhibit A on why hockey players are tough. At least on the outside, that is.

“Coming back as quick as I did, I became a cult hero,” Malarchuk, sipping coffee, dipping chew, says the other day. “It was like, ‘Holy crap, this guy had his head cut off almost, and he’s back playing.’ I became a pretty good celebrity in that town. I basked in that, basked in my courage, basked in my cowboy mentality. I thought everybody back home, my cowboy buddies, would all be pretty proud of me.

“I never thought about trauma or anything like that. Never ever.”

Never thinking about the trauma – or at least truly addressing it – might have had an impact on what was the other darkest moment in Malarchuk’s life. That second moment didn’t take place because of someone else’s imperfectly placed skate; instead it was the result of Malarchuk’s own actions on October 7, 2008. During what was labeled a “hunting mishap,” Malarchuk put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger while his wife was watching.

Malarchuk claimed it wasn’t really a suicide attempt as he didn’t realize the gun was loaded, but the message seemed clear either way.

“I remember thinking, ‘Holy crap, I just shot myself in the head,’ ” says Malarchuk. “It wasn’t like a premeditated suicide. It was stupid. I actually thought the gun wasn’t loaded. It was impulsive. Crazy, irrational. Mind spinning a hundred miles an hour. It wasn’t like I left a note. I call it an accident.”

After that near-death experience, Malarchuk underwent something he probably should have experienced after he nearly died on the ice: “heavy, heavy therapy.” That’s not to say he didn’t try to get better in the years between those two incidents – he experienced “15 good years” after finding some help, including the use of Zoloft – but he didn’t really address the issue specifically. Malarchuk started to make progress once he was treated for post-traumatic stress related to that throat-slashing catastrophe.

“I thought it was only people in war who had that,” says Malarchuk. “When they come back, some of them are basket cases, some are homeless people, alcoholics, drug addicts. Why? Because they never got help.

“We went through some exercises where I had to relive (the neck injury). Cry. Be scared. Shake. I never did that (in 1989). The words ‘counsel’ or ‘psychology’ . . . never came up. I’m not blaming anybody. It never even crossed my mind.”

Even amid these crises, Malarchuk was building up a career as a goalie coach (including time with the Columbus Blue Jackets, as you can see in this post’s main photo). Former Atlanta Thrashers GM Rick Dudley gave him opportunities along the way, including a role as goalie coach for the Thrashers in 2010-11. Malarchuk’s potentially tragic story could turn inspiring as he goes on to his next role as the Calgary Flames’ goalie coach in 2011-12.

“I’m excited — super-excited about this job,” he says. “It’s one of the best things that’s happened to me in a long time. To be a coach with the Flames? Pretty cool.

“I’m 100 per cent mentally. I do have to take medication and I’m not ashamed to say that. And I have a healthy lifestyle.”

Larkin will start season with Red Wings

Dylan Larkin
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Dylan Larkin — despite being just 19 years old — will begin the season on the Detroit Red Wings, a team not normally accustomed to having teenagers in the lineup.

Coach Jeff Blashill confirmed the news this morning. Larkin could apparently start on a line with Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader.

Larkin, the 15th overall pick in the 2014 draft, had three goals and one assist in five preseason games. A natural center, he’s shown the potential to one day step into the kind of “big-time” role that Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have played for so long in Detroit.

“You have to give our scouts credit,” former coach Mike Babcock told ESPN in May. “We got a great pick where we picked. How high end is he? How soon?”

Related: Coaching change ‘one of the reasons’ Larkin signed with Wings

Preseason stats: Five goalies with good numbers, five goalies with…not

Anders Nilsson
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Yeah, yeah, it’s a small sample size and it’s just the preseason, but here are some goaltending stats anyway.

Five goalies with good numbers

Anders Nilsson, Edmonton — zero goals on 53 shots. His solid play a likely factor in the decision to waive Ben Scrivens, who actually wasn’t that bad in the preseason (4 goals on 56 shots).

Martin Jones, San Jose — three goals on 100 shots. The Sharks are rolling the dice on a couple of cheap goalies. Jones and Alex Stalock have a combined cap hit of just $4.6 million.

Jacob Markstom, Vancouver — three goals on 79 shots. Can he finally get over the NHL hump? If so, he could make it a real competition with Ryan Miller.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus — five goals on 122 shots. The Blue Jackets have scored a ton of goals in the preseason, but there remain questions about their blue line. Bobrovsky has the ability to make a so-so defense look good.

Anton Khudobin, Anaheim — two goals on 67 shots. A good early sign for the Ducks, who have Frederik Andersen in the starting role and want to give young John Gibson more time to develop in the AHL.

Five goalies with bad numbers

Thomas Greiss, Islanders — 14 goals on 94 shots. Has to be a bit of concern in Brooklyn. The Isles got below-average backup play last season from Chad Johnson. They wanted to fix that with the Greiss signing.

Robin Lehner, Buffalo — 11 goals on 95 shots. Tim Murray paid a hefty price to get the 24-year-old out of Ottawa. With the aforementioned Johnson in the backup role, the goaltending story is worth watching.

Jeff Zatkoff, Pittsburgh — 11 goals on 74 shots. Granted, Marc-Andre Fleury and Matthew Murray weren’t particularly sharp either. The Penguins conceded 28 goals in eight games.

Kari Lehtonen, Dallas — 15 goals on 84 shots. For a Stars team that desperately needs better goaltending, that has to be worrying. Antti Niemi wasn’t a whole lot better either, allowing eight goals on 65 shots. Fair question to ask — how many of all those goals were attributable to poor defensive play?

Pekka Rinne, Nashville — 12 goals on 91 shots. Has earned the benefit of the doubt, but thought we’d point it out anyway.