Canadiens forward George Parros gets some tender loving care from his 2-year-old daughter, Lola.
Photograph by: Tiffany Parros, The Gazette
CALGARY — George Parros was being hoisted onto a gurney, the Bell Centre no longer in its rowdy, joyful spirit of opening night but now deafeningly quiet, everyone in the building drawing their breath almost as one, in shallow gulps.
The Canadiens’ summer-acquired heavyweight already had fought early in the second period with Toronto Maple Leafs enforcer Colton Orr, Parros pounding out a win by decision. He had nodded respectfully in Orr’s direction as they skated toward the penalty box, as if to recognize that both men had done their raw-knuckled jobs for their teams and done them well, the arena in an uproar and players on both benches standing, thumping their sticks appreciatively on the boards.
Now it was early in the third and the Bell Centre was thundering again, Canadiens defenceman Jarred Tinordi having seconds earlier scored a technical knockout of Toronto’s Carter Ashton, breaking his nose with an overhand right.
And then, in an instant, the noise was vacuumed from the arena; the second bout between Parros and Orr, their eighth throwdown in pro hockey, had ended horribly when the Habs forward fell awkwardly after a missed punch, falling like a redwood face-first to the ice, unprotected, blood soon forming on the rink at his chin.
Orr immediately waved that his sparring partner needed help and within seconds the Canadiens medical, athletic-therapy and equipment staff, joined by two Leafs therapists, eight in all, swarmed over Parros, whose game attempt to rise to his feet had been overruled by his scrambled faculties.
Finally secured to a spine board, Parros was lifted gingerly to the gurney, strapped down to be rolled to a waiting ambulance.
It was during the triage that we caught the first glimpse of Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, exiting his team’s loge high above the rink to hustle downstairs.
In July, Bergevin had traded for Parros, importing the 6-foot-5, 225-pounder from Florida to give his club some muscle and take some of that responsibility off the back of Brandon Prust.
“If you look at the situation in our conference, I thought George brought something we needed,” Bergevin said upon the acquisition. “We’re bringing in a guy with a lot of character and we know what he can bring to the team.
“He brings an aspect of respect, not only on the ice but also with his teammates. He’s a high character guy who’s well-liked by his teammates and he protects his teammates.
“We all know what Brandon Prust does for us. Brandon has the heart of a lion. He’s a warrior and he stands up for his teammates and now he’s going to have help.”
Moments after Bergevin had left the team loge, he was briefly seen again, the colour of chalk, deep in the corridor outside the Canadiens dressing room, injured defenceman Alexei Emelin nearby, awaiting the gurney’s arrival from the ice.
Parros, 33, continues to recover steadily from the concussion he suffered — incredibly, the first of his career that has included 162 documented fights over eight NHL seasons. On Wednesday morning, Bergevin told me in a quiet talk in the team’s hotel lobby here that Parros “is doing good, feeling a lot better. He’s almost symptom-free.”
Bergevin, who had communicated with Parros by text message 10 minutes earlier, cautioned that there’s still a good road to travel before the player will return to the team.
“A concussion is a hard thing to gauge,” Bergevin said. “You could have a guy out a week or 10 days — (Brendan) Gallagher last year was quick, but (Rene) Bourque and Raffi (Raphael Diaz) went longer. You never know with concussions. Overall, we’re pretty happy with where George is at today, looking at everything that happened.
“Every day is just a checklist. It’s to check the symptoms, a whole bunch of them — headaches, (sensitivity to) lights … He’s almost symptom-free as we speak. Every day is an evaluation because the next day could be worse, but so far, it’s been going up every day.
“I’m pretty confident that George will be back sooner than later.”
Parros was discharged from hospital by 9 a.m. on Oct. 2, after having been kept overnight for observation. He was on the phone to team management that morning and later the same day dropped by the Canadiens’ practice facility in Brossard.
“I was going to stop by the hospital at 9 o’clock, but the doctor said George had already been released,” Bergevin said. “I thought: ‘That’s early, I figured he’d be out in the afternoon,’ but he was already on his way home by then.”
An active member of the social-media community, Parros went on his Twitter account from hospital just several hours after the incident to say: “Thanks for all the well wishes everyone,” with the hash tag #classyfollowers.
He has tweeted maybe a half-dozen times since, though one on Oct. 5 from his wife, Tiffany, caused a pleasant stir:"Dont worry ... @georgeparros has around the clock care," she tweeted, attaching an Instagram photo of one of the couple's 2-year-old twins planting a tender kiss on the chin of her bare-chested father.
It had been just four Bell Centre games earlier that Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien had seen Lars Eller rolled off the ice last May, the centreman bloodied and concussed by an open-ice hit during Game 1 of the Canadiens playoff series vs. Ottawa.
Now, with Parros, he paced behind the bench and held his breath with everyone else.
"It hurt," Therrien said before Wednesday's game against the Flames. "For sure, first of all, you never want to see a player get hurt on the ice. George's injury was an accident, like Lars got hurt on the ice last year with a hit, a different type of accident.
"But when guys have character, they respond to that. Lars proved that last year. And one thing that I know is that George has a lot of character. He's a team guy, the guys love him in the room even though he's been here just a short period of time.
"For me, he's not going to change when he comes back. I talked to him on the phone the next day and saw him in Brossard. He looked really good, considering what had happened," Therrien added, echoing his own words spoken the first time he saw the battered Eller.
"We want to take our time (with Parros's recovery). It's a long season, but when he's going to be back, he'll be an important player."
Bergevin says he still can't bear to watch replays of Parros falling to the ice, his face taking the full impact.
"I still can't look at it," the GM said. "When I know it's coming, I look away."
He remembered rushing down to ice level last May when Eller was injured, standing at the end of the team bench when the gurney came off.
"I didn't want to make this about me," Bergevin said of waiting deep in the corridor for Parros's arrival. "This time I waited back in the hallway. I was talking to Dr. Martineau (Paul Martineau, the Canadiens' chief orthopedic surgeon). I had my opinion what I think might have happened — I thought George had broken his cheekbone."
Parros's gurney moved swiftly past Bergevin in the corridor and into the team clinic.
"I looked at George coming off and the first thing I did was look at his face," Bergevin said. "I know what somebody looks like with a broken cheekbone, I've seen it before. I didn't see it here. I kind of was relieved, thinking it wasn't that, but still I wasn't sure. Once I went in (the clinic) I asked briefly again and they said, 'We don't think it is.' I know it wasn't good, but at least I knew that.
"I grabbed George's hand. When I did, he looked at me and went like this," Bergevin said, thrusting his thumb up.
In his 20-season, 1,191-game NHL career, Bergevin saw more than his share of gruesome injuries. There are two, "the most frightening things," that stand out in his memory:
He witnessed Joey Kocur’s 1989 fight with Brad Delgarno, the latter concussed and left with a broken orbital bone, cheekbone and jaw.
And the same year he saw Rich Pilon suffer a shattered orbital bone and nearly lose an eye when struck by a puck.
Now, Bergevin says he’s in touch with Parros by text message nearly every day.
“When I talk to him it’s about how he feels and not anything else,” the GM said. “I’m worried about him as a person, not one bit as a hockey player. That’s the last of my worries and the last worry of the Montreal Canadiens. George has a wife and two young children. That’s the most important thing. The rest will take care of itself.”
Parros and the role he enthusiastically plays is embraced by both Therrien, who demands character from his players, and by Bergevin, who admires the frayed-edge game that the newcomer has played every stride of his career.
Bergevin wasn’t necessarily a fighter during his NHL days; 245 of his 1,090 penalty minutes earned between 1984-2004 would have come from the 49 scraps credited to him by hockeyfights.com.
(Asked whether he knew his total, Bergevin guessed 15. He was shocked it was 49, then joked that he was sorry he hadn’t had one more for an even 50. He added that a couple fights in the American League surely gave him that sum.)
But Bergevin understands that a modern NHL team needs many different parts to build its engine. If the likes of Eller and Max Pacioretty and Brian Gionta are the well-lubricated pistons, Parros is the exhaust manifold.
The role of a Parros on any team is fodder for those who support or oppose fighting, a lively debate that’s again heating up.
“George’s injury was purely accidental,” Bergevin said. “You hate anybody getting hurt, on any team. These guys make a living out of this game. You could argue about fighting or other things.
“This is a contact sport and those flying elbows and hits from behind to me are more dangerous than a hockey fight. But that debate will come at some point.”
What has been gratifying to Bergevin is how his NHL management colleagues have been in constant touch to check on Parros’s condition, hockey men who have had the player on their teams and others who wouldn’t know him beyond his bushy, trademark moustache.
“I can’t speak for other sports,” Bergevin said. “But I could put our people against those in any other sport. They’re the best in the business.”
Parros, everyone expects, will step back on the ice to resume the role for which he was signed, one he’s comfortable with, the role that has kept him gainfully employed in the NHL, whether you agree with it or not.
More than anyone, Bergevin knows what ticks inside his gigantic healing forward, and that gives him pause to recall a painful moment that quickly brings his emotions to his eyes.
“I fought for my teammates most of the time. I always looked at the guys who couldn’t defend themselves,” Bergevin said. “I fought for Pavol Demitra, who I played with for five years in St. Louis.”
On Sept. 7, Demitra perished with the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl club of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League when its plane crashed in flames shortly after takeoff.
“This is the first thing I thought when Pavol’s plane crashed,” Bergevin said. “I remember fighting for him and that day, I couldn’t. I couldn’t fight for him. I couldn’t help him and he died.”
Bergevin, Therrien and everyone with the Canadiens will welcome George Parros back when it’s time for him to return. No one is in a hurry now.
What you saw Oct. 1, in the corridor outside the dressing room in a stunned-silent Bell Centre, was the general manager of a hockey team who was gravely concerned for a human being first and a player second.
He’ll be delighted to have both back in the Canadiens family when the time is right.
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