For several scary moments, the life of Buffalo Sabres goaltender Clint Malarchuk hung in the balance Wednesday night.
Malarchuk knelt in the goalcrease at The Aud, blood squirting from a cut on his neck and pooling in front of him.Officials said quick action by Buffalo trainer Jim Pizzutelli and team doctor Peter James saved Malarchuk's life. Pizzutelli applied pressure to the wound - a six-inch cut on his neck - and Malarchuk quickly was ushered off the ice to the Sabres' training room.
"Jim Pizzutelli, the training staff and the doctors might have saved a life on the ice tonight," Buffalo coach Ted Sator said. "I thank God it didn't happen on the other side of the rink."
Doctors later said that if the incident had occurred at the far end of the ice, away from the locker rooms and training room, Malarchuk may have died.
Once off the ice, James and other doctors at the game worked on Malarchuk to stop the bleeding. His girlfriend joined him, and he was rushed to Buffalo General Hospital.
Hospital spokesman Mike Shaw said Malarchuk was in good condition, his vital signs stable. Shaw said Malarchuk's jugular vein was partly severed and that a muscle in the right side of his neck was severed.
The jugular is one of two large veins that carry blood back to the heart from the head.
Exploratory surgery showed no further damage, Shaw said, and Malarchuk is expected to remain hospitalized for two to three days.
Like Sator, St. Louis Blues assistant trainer Mike Folga credited Pizzutelli and the Sabres' training staff for saving Malarchuk's life.
"Pizzutelli applied pressure," Folga said. "It was a life-saving situation, there's no doubt about it. The Buffalo people did a very, very good job."
Blues general manager Ron Caron said Malarchuk "came close. When I saw this, I thought sports is not much. The welfare of a human being is most important."
The injury occurred with 4 minutes 33 seconds left in the first period of the Sabres' game against the Blues. On a two-on-two rush, the Blues' Rick Meagher centered a pass from the left wing to Steve Tuttle, who was hooked by Uwe Krupp.
Krupp and Tuttle crashed into Malarchuk and the net, knocking it off its moorings. Malarchuk's head turned to the left and snapped down as it was wedged between the goalpost and Krupp's gloved hands.
Although the cut apparently was caused by the bottom of his goalie mask, the possibility of Malarchuk being cut by a skate was not ruled out. Malarchuk immediately grasped his neck with his right hand, then threw off his mask with his left.
At first, Malarchuk knelt alone as players from both teams, along with referee Terry Gregson and linesmen Ron Asselstine and Bob Hodges, skated past him toward Krupp and Tuttle, who were exchanging words.
Attention then shifted to Malarchuk. Buffalo defenseman Grant Ledyard skated across ice from the bench and began banging on the glass on the gate behind the net, getting the attention of the team doctor.
The 14,448 fans in The Aud were silent. There was confusion on the ice. Ledyard, who came from Washington with Malarchuk in a trade on March 6, was hysterical. Ledyard left the ice to join his teammate.
On WNYB, which televised the game, color commentator Mike Robitaille was crying. The television station did not show replays of the injury and cut to a commercial immediately after it happened.