Canucks and Beyond

The Game Must Go On -- But at What Price?

02/11/2008 at 2:16am EST

Watching the Sabres/Panthers matchup on Sunday, the accidental slash of Olli Jokinen’s skate blade into the throat of Richard Zednik was a terrible sight for all who witnessed it, much less to experience the horror first-hand as Zednik did.

Fortunately, all indications are that Zednik is doing fine so far. In a state of what must surely have been shock, he moved towards the bench following some internal autopilot as a trainer came out to put pressure on the wound, slowing the blood coming from his throat. He left the arena and was quickly in surgery, apparently stabilized according to reports.

But one has to wonder at the rationale to let this game continue after such a brutal incident. The show must go on? Perhaps, but who exactly should be deciding that? And was it really the best decision?

It was a difficult situation, without a doubt, but that decision to resume play is likely to be questioned a great deal in the coming days, though with the benefit of hindsight.

Immediately after the incident, it was reported [TSN] that a meeting took place to decide the fate of the game, still in the midst of the 3rd period:

Prior to resuming the game, referee Bill McCreary and Panthers coach Jacques Martin consulted in the tunnel outside the Panthers’ dressing room.

Sabres general manager Darcy Regier was also spotted talking with NHL vice president Colin Campbell, who was at HSBC Arena to watch his son Gregory play for the Panthers.

And so it was quickly decided that the game should continue. From the AP via NYT:

In a statement, the N.H.L. said that Campbell talked to Commissioner Gary Bettman and decided to continue the game after knowing that Zednik was stable, that trainers had stopped the bleeding and that the teams were willing to go on.

There’s no reason to doubt that all of those involved were doing their best—and under awful circumstances—to make the right decision for everyone in that moment. And I’m sure it wasn’t an easy call to make, with many factors to be considered.

But there is one thing that immediately stands out about that quick hallway meeting and the NHL’s decision: the players didn’t appear to have any say in what was going to happen. Neither captain, for instance, was reported to be part of that decision to continue to the game.

That seems like an especially important oversight, since I can’t think of anyone in that arena who could have been more affected by the events we all witnessed than those players must have been. A member of their profession—one of them—endured a life-threatening injury before their eyes. Surely that was especially traumatic for them, moreso than even the arena crowd and all of us watching on television.

Ryan Miller’s comments were probably shared by many when he said, “It was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen in hockey. I’m just happy that stable is the word [...]. It looked like a Quentin Tarantino movie.”

And probably none of us can imagine what it must have been like for Jokinen, who was very clear in his opinion after the game.

‘‘We shouldn’t have finished the game,’’ Jokinen said. ‘‘I saw the replay, that it was my skate that hit him in the throat. I think we were all in shock. I’ve never seen anything like that. There are bigger things than (finishing the game). It was terrifying.

‘‘I didn’t think anyone on our team was thinking hockey out there after an injury like that. If it was my call, I would have gone to the hospital with him.’‘

But apparently the show must go on… and so the game resumed 15 minutes later, the trail of blood erased from the ice.

Was it the right decision?

Update 12:00pm PT February 11th:
Colin Campbell on NHL Live today reported that the coaches did ask the players if they wanted to continue, after they’d been told Zednik was in stable condition.

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