Skate slices neck of Panthers' player during game

Panthers forward Richard Zednik was accidentally struck in the neck by teammate Olli Jokinen after a first-period collision.
Panthers forward Richard Zednik was accidentally struck in the neck by teammate Olli Jokinen after a first-period collision.

Update: Florida Panthers forward Richard Zednik lost five units of blood, but doctors never considered his life in jeopardy after the player had his carotid artery nearly severed by a teammate's skate in a freak and frightening accident.

Zednik underwent an hour of surgery to reconnect the artery Sunday night and was listed in stable condition in the intensive care unit at Buffalo General Hospital on Monday. He was awake and cooperative with the medical staff, doctors said.

Attending surgeon Sonya Noor said there were no initial signs of brain damage, which is a fear whenever the coratid artery is clamped. She said clamps were in place for about 15 to 20 minutes during surgery, which she considers a short time.

"So far, he looks very good. He's awake, oriented," said Noor. "He remembers what happened last night."

Zednik was sliced across the right side of the throat by teammate Olli Jokinen's skate midway through the third period of Buffalo's 5-3 victory. Doctors said the skate blade just missed cutting the jugular vein.

The carotid artery supplies blood to the brain, while the jugular vein takes blood from the brain. Blood pressure is much higher in the carotid artery.

Sabres orthopedic surgeon Les Bisson, who attended to Zednik shortly after he got off the ice, said losing five units -- about five pints -- of blood was significant, but "not a lot" for this type of injury.

According to Noor, the slashed artery was "hanging by a thread." She stressed if the artery had been completely severed it would have recessed into the neck, requiring even more extensive surgery.

Prior to surgery, doctors noted that Zednik's blood pressure was dropping, and there was also swelling around the cut making it difficult to breath. Doctors put a tube in his neck to open an airway.

Robert McCormack, the hospital's clinical chief of emergency medicine, said: "We became concerned. He was clearly in shock from blood loss. His heart rate was high his blood pressure was a bit low."

Vascular surgeon Richard Curl, who assisted Noor, said the cut was about an inch-and-a-half deep and also as wide. Doctors were astonished the skate blade did not hit any other arteries or veins or cause any further damage.

"Luck," was a factor, according to Noor.

"He might have some hoarseness and that's about it at this point," said Noor, who said Zednik had a "normal, beautiful artery."

The Panthers returned home to South Florida following the game, a flight coach Jacques Martin said was "pretty quiet."

However, Zednik was joined at the hospital by his wife, Jessica, and Karen Cohen, wife of Alan Cohen, who is the Panthers' general partner, chairman of the board and CEO, hospital spokesman Mike Hughes said in a release. The two arrived by charter flight late Sunday night.

Zednik will remain in the ICU at least one more day, but it is uncertain when he will be discharged and allowed to return to Florida, Noor said. It will be six to eight weeks before he can return to normal activity.

"The entire Panthers organization wish to extend their sincere gratitude and appreciation to the medical staff at Buffalo General Hospital, the Buffalo Sabres organization, the HSBC Arena staff and to the Panthers and Sabres fans who have expressed their thoughts and concerns," Panthers assistant general manager Randy Sexton said.

Sexton and Panthers assistant trainer Dave Zenobi stayed overnight with Zednik at the hospital.

Zednik was circling the net behind the play and skating into the corner when Jokinen was upended by Sabres forward Clarke MacArthur. Jokinen fell headfirst to the ice, and his right leg and skate flew up and struck Zednik directly on the side of the neck.

Clutching his neck, Zednik left a trail of blood as he somehow raced three-quarters the length of the ice to the Panthers bench. He nearly fell into the arms of Zenobi, who immediately placed a towel on the player's throat. With the help of defenseman Jassen Cullimore, Zednik was escorted up the tunnel behind the bench and loaded into an ambulance.

Bisson, the Sabres' doctor, said injuries to the carotid artery are potentially fatal, but stressed that was not a concern because Zednik was conscious and responding to commands.

"That could be fatal, but I wouldn't say he was close to death," Bisson said. "If you can stop the bleeding, then you have some time ... I wouldn't say at any point, we're thinking: `He's going to die now."'

A 12-year veteran, Zednik is in his first season with the Panthers.

When Zednik was with Montreal he sustained a severe concussion, broken nose, bruised throat and cut eyelid following a vicious blow to the face by Boston's Kyle McLaren during the 2002 playoffs. Zednik was knocked cold, had to be taken off the ice on a stretcher and spent the night in intensive care.

McLaren was suspended by the NHL for the rest of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, missing the final two games of the series, which Montreal won in six games.

Zednik returned the following season to score a career-high 31 goals and match a career high with 50 points.

He signed with the Panthers as a free agent last summer. After a two-month slump, he has been playing well. He entered the game on a four-game point streak, in which he had six goals and three assists, giving him 26 points (15 goals, 11 assists) in 54 games this season.

"I think he'll be able to continue his career," Martin said. "I think it's too soon to establish a time of his return."

Previously: Florida Panthers forward Richard Zednik underwent surgery to close a deep gash on the right side of his neck and was in stable condition Sunday night after he was cut by a teammate's skate during a game.

"The surgery was successful and he's resting comfortably in the hospital," Panthers spokesman Brian Goldman said.

Blood gushed from Zednik's neck after he was hurt midway through the third period of Buffalo's 5-3 victory, creating a frightening moment that delayed the game for about 15 minutes. There was also a brief discussion about postponing the game altogether.

Zednik was behind the play and skating into the right corner of the Sabres' zone, when teammate Olli Jokinen was upended by Sabres forward Clarke MacArthur. Jokinen fell head-first to the ice, and his right leg flew up and struck Zednik directly on the side of the neck.

Clutching his neck, Zednik raced to the Florida bench, leaving a long trail of blood. When he arrived, he nearly fell into the arms of a team trainer, who quickly applied a towel to the cut. Zednik was then helped off the ice by the trainer and teammate Jassen Cullimore, and escorted to the Panthers' dressing room.

"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."

Panthers spokesman Justin Copertino said Zednik was transported by ambulance to Buffalo General Hospital. Copertino said the team was making arrangements to have Zednik's wife, Jessica, fly from South Florida to Buffalo by a charter flight Sunday night.

The team was scheduled to return to Miami, but assistant general manager Randy Sexton and assistant trainer Dave Zenobi planned to stay behind with Zednik, Copertino said.

Zednik's injury left players and coaches on both benches stunned, and a silent hush fell over the crowd at HSBC Arena.

NHL vice president Colin Campbell consulted with Sabres general manager Darcy Regier and referee Bill McCreary in a tunnel after Zednik was loaded into an ambulance. Campbell, who was not available for comment, attended the game in part because his son, Gregory, plays for the Panthers.

In a statement, the NHL 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.

The league said: "The thoughts and prayers of the NHL family are with Richard Zednik, his loved ones, his teammates and the Florida Panthers organization."

"I can fully understand if they wanted to cancel the whole game," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "It was pretty solemn. There wasn't a lot being said (on the bench). There was just more concern for Richard than anything else.

"When you see something like that, it isn't about playing anymore. But I said, 'We're going to finish the game and it's going to be what it's going to be."'

As crews scraped the blood from the ice and the surface was cleaned by Zambonis during the extended delay, the public address announcer said: "Richard Zednik is in stable condition and on his way to a Buffalo hospital."

The crowd stood in applause during the announcement.

Zednik's injury was eerily reminiscent of an injury sustained by Sabres goaltender Clint Malarchuk about 19 years ago at Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium. On March 22, 1989, Malarchuk severed his jugular vein when St. Louis Blues forward Steve Tuttle was upended while skating toward the crease, slicing Malarchuk with a skate.

Malarchuk required over 300 stitches but spent only one night in the hospital, returning to practice after four days. On April 2, he played the final five minutes in the season finale, less than two weeks after his injury.

Panthers defenseman Steve Montador recalled seeing Zednik in a state of shock as he got to the bench.

"He looked pale, he was obviously standing and to a degree, coherent. But he didn't look as focused as you or I right now. He was staring at nothing," Montador said. "That's a pretty brave guy to realize what's going on: Grab your neck and get off the ice."

Zednik has 15 goals and 11 assists this season.

It was the second serious injury caused by a skate this weekend.

On Saturday, NHL linesman Pat Dapuzzo needed dozens of stitches to close a cut on his face after he was hit by the skate of Philadelphia Flyers forward Steve Downie in a game against the New York Rangers.

Dapuzzo, scheduled to retire at the end of the season, didn't return after the second-period injury.

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