March 22, 1989. I was a freshman at UB and my Dad had two tickets to the Buffalo Sabres game against the St. Louis Blues and he gave them to me. Not that far removed from high school, I took a very pretty young lady still in high school that I was looking to have some summer fun with to the game. Now, she thought that hockey was a bunch of goons and was not interested in going to the game. I waxed poetic on the speed that can only been seen live, the fluid movement of the puck, the changes on the fly, and the dexterity and rubber-like body the goalies need to be successful.
The Blues were not a rival and the Aud was not packed. The Sabres were 34-32-7 and had already clinched a playoff spot with six games remaining (I forgot how that feels!). A little back story was how Tom Barrasso, (Buffalo's #5 overall pick in 1983 behind #3 Pat Lafontaine and #4 Steve Yzerman) was traded to Pittsburgh when Darren Puppa (also drafted in 1983, 74th overall) started the season on fire. Barrasso would go on to win two Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh.
On January 27, 1989, Puppa was crashed into by Mike McPhee of the Montreal Canadiens. Puppa broke his arm and was out for the season. Jacques Cloutier (the vet, drafted 55th in 1979) was ridden hard the rest of the season but was running out of gas. At the trading deadline, Buffalo traded Calle Johansson (14th pick in 1985 who would defeat Buffalo in the 1998 ECF), and their 2nd round pick in 1989 (which would become goalie Byron Dafoe) Clint Malarchuk (89th overall pick in 1982), Grant Ledyard and Washington's sixth round pick in 1991 (Brian Holzinger). Buffalo also traded Lindy Ruff to the Rangers for the Rangers' 5th round pick in 1990 (Richard Smehlik). Malarchuk’s became a Sabre on March 7, and the next day, he played his first game for Buffalo, a shutout win over Lindy Ruff's New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden.
I picked up my date, who decided to go, and headed to downtown Buffalo in the VW Rabbit of Love. We had to arrive early to get free parking on Marine Drive or Perry Blvd. We had very nice seats in the reds in the corner, the same side the zamboni lumbered up from the basement to provide a clean sheet.
My date started to really enjoy the game and thanked me for taking her and explaining the nuances of the game. I distinctly remember being totally upset with Benoit Hogue for missing a point break opportunity right in front of the crease. A weak play by the Sabres to keep the puck in the offensive zone and the puck was heading down the ice and Steve Tuttle of the Blues got behind massive Uwe Krupp, many players in 1989 got behind Uwe. When I played for UB we would skate right after the Sabres practiced and was awed by a 6'6" man on skates. Krupp later became a hero scoring a Stanley Cup goal in the 4th overtime while with the Avs. Krupp won a second cup in Detroit in 2002 reuniting with Scottie Bowman. I had to give you the positives on Krupp.
** Be warned the following description and video may be gruesome **
Krupp got beat and Tuttle was racing for the far post looking to redirect the puck. Krupp panicked and knocked Tuttle into Malarchuk. Tuttle's skate came up hitting Malarchuk's neck severing his jugular vein. I remember seeing some blood and then Clint lowered his hands that were around his neck and a splash of red blood painted the white ice. It was later reported that Malarchuk lost 1/3 of the blood from his body.
My date was frozen and visibly shook up and remember how quiet everything suddenly became. To my surprise we stayed the entire game. Reports surfaced that eleven fans fainted, two suffered heart attacks, while three players vomited on the ice. The story then became more about Sabres head trainer Jim Pizzutelli. I skate with Jim's son every Sunday morning, who is a hell of a player, and to this day I have not asked about that day. Still too painful after all these years. I don’t feel comfortable bringing up that memory.
Mr. Pizzutelli instantly jumped into action and was on Clint in seconds. Jim whose background was an Army medic while serving in Vietnam grabbed the neck and pinched the vein stopping the bleeding. Malarchuk wanted no part of a stretcher and wanted off the ice right away. He wanted off immediately because his Mom in Grand Prairie, Alberta was watching the game, he did not want his Mom to see him die. He was certain he was not going to survive. He even asked for a priest to perform last rights. Malarchuk is lucky to be alive after the incident. Doctors needed a total of 300 stitches to close of the wound.
The game continued to an obviously sobered fan base and the Blues recorded a 2 -1 victory with Jacques Cloutier in net. In the ambulance Clint broke the stoic silence asking if he can be back in time for the third period. Fans embraced Malarchuk he returned from his injury to play 95 more games as a Sabre before eventually retiring in 1997. Malarchuk went into coaching, most recently a three year stint as goaltender coach of the Calgary Flames between 2011 and 2014.
Unfortunately lighting struck a second time when on February 10, 2008 another player suffered a similar injury. While Olli Jokinen was tied up with Buffalo's Clarke MacCarthur. Jokinen went down to the ice and his skate came up. Richard Zednik had made it a habit of scoring big in Buffalo. Most famously, Zednick scored two goals including the game-tying goal in game 3 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals with the Capitals. Washington would win the game in OT, take a 2-1 series lead and eventually win the series 4-2. This time, Zednick was at the wrong place at the wrong time and was clipped by the skate blade injuring his external carotid artery. Zednick make a bee-line right to the bench. The game resumed just like the Clint game and the Sabres prevailed 5-3. The Florida Panthers returned to South Florida after an 8 day road swing, but Zednick was left back in Buffalo. Richard missed the rest of the season. Richard played one more year in the NHL before one season in the newly formed Russian League.
Irony strikes as it often does as Jim Pizzutelli was the personal trainer for Ollie Jokinen.
I want to warn anyone who has never seen the video that the following videos are very gruesome.