Johnson: Emotional Dallas Stars recount Rich Peverley’s scary collapse
Teammates and coaching staff talk with media before playing Flames in first game since incident
Dallas Stars right wing Alex Chiasson bows his head on the bench as defenceman Jordie Benn takes a knee on the ice after play was stopped in the first period of an NHL Hockey game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday. Stars centre Rich Peverley was taken to a hospital after collapsing on the bench, but he is going to be OK.
Photograph by: Sharon Ellman, AP
Mostly what James Patrick remembers is the swift, stark suddenness, followed by paralyzing fear.
“Amazing how fast it all happened,” the Dallas Stars’ assistant coach, a long-ago Calgary Flames’ defenceman, is saying three days after the fact. “I was down at the other end of the bench. It seemed to be a series of . . . I don’t know . . . flash images. I don’t know how else to describe it. I saw Lindy (Ruff) screaming for a doctor. Players were yelling ‘Man down!’
“My first thought was ‘Did someone get cut by a skate?’ Because of the panic in the players and in Lindy’s voice. When I came down and saw it was Pevs, I knew it had to be his heart, from the issues in the past. Then you saw that he was . . . lifeless.
“So scary. Almost surreal.
“Then everything just kind of ran together. The game being stopped. The refs coming over. Him being carried down the hallway.
“So . . . quick. A blur. Almost as if you’d only imagined it.
“Immediately, the concern wasn’t whether or not he’d been injured badly. You wondered whether he was alive.”
The Stars made their first appearance at American Airlines Center on Friday, 96 hours after the game against Columbus was abandoned following Peverley’s collapse on the bench due to an irregular heartbeat and him having to be resuscitated by emergency medical personnel. Another real-life lesson of priorities for the often illusionary world of professional sports.
Rich Peverley won’t play again this season. May never play again at all. But that’s not the issue here.
His long-term health is.
“In a way it was good, if it was meant to happen, that it happened where it did,” said centre Tyler Seguin. “The one thing positive about it all, besides him being OK, is that everyone was right there to help as soon as they could.
“If it’d been another scenario it might not have worked out as well.“Obviously it was kinda panic there for a little bit. One of the scariest sights I’ve ever seen. He was right beside me when it was happening. It’s something I never want to see again.”
Peverley was released from hospital on Wednesday night, and visited the Stars’ training facility in Frisco, Texas, the next morning, to boost his teammates’ spirits.
“It meant a lot,” said Stars’ captain Jamie Benn. “Right when he walked in the doors you saw 23 smiling faces. It was great to see him. It was such a scary incident, we’re just happy that he’s making a good recovery now and that he came to the rink to say hi to the boys.
“There was definitely no way we were going to play that game after it happened. The boys were pretty shook up. Not only me but the other leaders in this room had to calm our group down. We had to re-focus for the next day and a big game against St. Louis. I thought our group did a great job in getting mentally ready.
“It’s something you just never want to be part of again. In the end, it’s just a game. Our heads weren’t in it after that happened. I know a lot of guys were thinking of their families and hockey was in the back seat.”
One of the most affected of the Stars was rookie winger Alex Chiasson, so shook up by the near-tragic incident that he was unable to make the trek to Missouri.
“I’ll be the first to admit it was really hard,” Chiasson told Dallas media after Peverley’s surprise appearance at practice Thursday. “Pevs is someone I sat next to in the locker-room, who took care of me on the road, always the first one to text me to see if I wanted to go to dinner. Emotionally, it was really hard. There are different thoughts that go through your mind. You never want to see anything like that.”
Dr. Robert Dimeff said Peverley’s heart likely raced out of control during the game and then actually stopped, but probably for no more than 10 seconds. The former Boston Bruin will now undergo a procedure that he decided to put off when his condition was first discovered during a physical before training camp. At the time, he was given the option of treating atrial fibrillation, the most common type of heart arrhythmia, with a minor adjustment and medication or missing several months to undergo a more invasive procedure.
“We’re just so happy, so grateful, he’s OK,” said Patrick. “If just know if we’d continued on with that game, we would’ve lost 10-0. Our guys were so traumatized by what happened. Half of them were crying and half of them were so upset they couldn’t even talk. Things like that . . . they can’t help but shake you down to the core.”
James Patrick was on another bench in February of 2008, working as an assistant coach for the Buffalo Sabres, when Richard Zednik’s throat was slashed by the skate of tumbling Florida teammate Olli Jokinen. That was a different kind of fear.
“I remember seeing that, him holding his neck and the blood gushing,” recalled Patrick, shaking his head softly, on Friday. “And I remember hearing the great news that he was going to be OK. I remember this overwhelming feeling of relief.
“The same feelings I had (Tuesday).
“The toughest part, I think, was when we were waiting for word. I don’t know how long it actually was, but it seemed like 10 or 15 minutes before Lindy walked out and let us know that everything was OK. Both Lindy and Curt (Fraser) were in there with the doctors, saw the whole thing. Incredible.
“That 10 or 15 minutes went on and on. I couldn’t tell you for sure. Forever, it seemed like.
“So when he came out and told us (Peverley) had been revived, he was conscious, that initial, intense feeling of shock kind of wore away and you’re thinking:
‘This is the greatest news possible. This is just incredible. No one, anywhere, could possibly be getting news this good.’
“That’s just the way you felt.”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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