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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.”

PHT Morning Skate: Columnist argues McDavid’s already NHL’s most important player

Connor McDavid
AP Photo
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Although Connor McDavid‘s NHL career has only just gotten started, is he already the league’s most important player? (Sportsnet)

While we’re on the subject of McDavid, what should we expect from him for the remainder of his rookie campaign? (NHL Numbers)

Jack Jablonski was paralyzed on Dec. 30, 2011 at the age of 16 while playing high school hockey, but that hasn’t ended his pursuit of a career in hockey. He’s spent the last two years hosting a weekly hockey-talk radio program and has now joined the Los Angeles Kings as a communications intern. (Orange County Register)

Arizona State has earned its first NCAA victory. (Arizona Republic)

The 2015 Calder Cup champion Manchester Monarchs got their rings. (LA Kings Insider)

The Anaheim Ducks and the Make-A-Wish Foundation gave 13-year-old Kai Quinonez, who was diagnosed with aplastic anemia four years ago, a tremendous experience. (Orange County Register)

Canucks spoil Ducks’ home opener via shootout

Adam Cracknell, Ryan Miller

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Ryan Miller and the Vancouver Canucks have already found a groove just three games into the regular season. The Anaheim Ducks are still looking for a way to get their offense going.

Radim Vrbata and Alex Burrows scored in the shootout, and the Canucks spoiled Anaheim’s home opener with a 2-1 victory Monday night.

Miller made 28 saves and Adam Cracknell scored in regulation for Vancouver, which beat the Ducks for just the third time in their last 12 meetings.

Vancouver improved to 2-0 on the road in the young season, with Miller yielding just one goal in each game. That’s encouraging to the veteran, who played in only four games after Feb. 22 last season while dealing with a knee injury.

“I’m just trying to go out there and battle and compete,” said Miller, who stopped a third-period redirection by Carl Hagelin with his mask. “That was my mindset coming off an injury. That’s what it really comes down to, getting back the focus early on. I didn’t play hockey for a while. The technical stuff I worked on this summer and I pay attention to in practice.”

Even with twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin combining for just one shot, the Canucks won the new season’s first meeting between the Pacific Division’s top two teams last year. Anaheim won its third straight division title, while Vancouver finished a surprising second before losing in the opening round of the playoffs.

Sami Vatanen scored and Frederik Andersen stopped 24 shots for the Ducks, who have scored just one goal while going winless in the first two games of a season that begins with Stanley Cup aspirations.

Anaheim was shut out in San Jose on Saturday in its opener before returning to Honda Center for its first real game on home ice since Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, when Chicago advanced to win the Stanley Cup.

Kevin Bieksa played nearly 24 1/2 minutes in his second game with the Ducks. Anaheim acquired the veteran defenseman from Vancouver last summer after he played 10 years with the Canucks, who drafted him in 2001. Bieksa was reunited with Ryan Kesler, the longtime Vancouver forward who moved to Anaheim before last season.

“We fought back a lot better than we did in San Jose,” Bieksa said. “So we need to keep building on this in the rest of this homestand here. If we do that, we’re going to be all right.”

After the Ducks failed to score on a power play during their first official taste of 3-on-3 overtime hockey, Vrbata and Burrows got stuttering, halting shots past Andersen, who stopped Burrows’ shot before watching it trickle under him.

“I’ve done that move a few times against a few goalies, but I don’t think I’ve ever done it against Freddie,” Burrows said. “So I tried it, and I’m lucky it went in tonight. It hit his stick and trickled in.”

Jakob Silfverberg scored in the shootout for the Ducks, who lost their home opener for just the second time in six seasons. Anaheim’s talented offensive players aren’t clicking so far, but nobody is panicking yet.

“I think we’re doing things the right way now,” Vatanen said. “We battled hard. We got some good chances. The season is long, so we’re going the right way.”

Both teams opened at a furious pace, with end-to-end chances throughout. After a scoreless first period, Vatanen got the Ducks’ first goal of the season when his long, low shot went through Mike Santorelli‘s screen.

Cracknell evened it later in the period with a sharp-angled shot that somehow deflected off Andersen’s shoulder or stick and landed behind the goalie. The journeyman got his first regular-season NHL goal since April 4, 2013, and just the seventh of his 85-game NHL career.

“Pretty fortunate goal on their part,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said.

NOTES: A small group of vocal protesters gathered outside Honda Center to call for the suspension of Ducks D Clayton Stoner, who faces charges in Canada related to a 2013 grizzly bear hunt. … Cracknell hadn’t scored a goal in his last 49 regular-season games, although he got a postseason goal in 2014 for St. Louis.