In Canada, hockey is a religion. It is by far the number one sport. People love the game known as the fastest sport in the world, not only for the speed, finesse and excitement, but for the physicality. Hockey is a rough, physical sport with tons of contact.
Not only do you have to worry about all the body contact, but it’s the only sport where you are basically holding a weapon in your hand, with weapons strapped to your feet. There are countless injuries from sticks and skates, which are both sharp and do a lot of damage.
The casual fans also love the fact that you can actually get in a fist fight and not get ejected from the game. Five minutes in the penalty box is the usual punishment for beating the crap out of someone, although you may get an extra two minutes for instigating the fight.
Although fighting is down in recent years, it’s still part of the game, and you will still see fights in the NHL if you happen to follow the sport. However, what hockey is most known for is having a bunch of players with no teeth. The stereotype is if you play hockey, you probably lost at least one tooth along the way. It’s quite common seeing players who are missing their front teeth, especially back in the day before helmets were mandatory.
Aside from the missing teeth, there are countless other injuries and ways to get hurt. With all the sticks, skates, elbows and big hits, we’ve seen plenty of gruesome injuries in the NHL over the years. It’s impossible to list them all, but let’s have a look at some of the most notable ones from the history books.
15. Bryan Berard – Eye
Many NHL fans will remember the time Bryan Berard almost lost his eye.
On March 11, 2000 while playing for the Maple Leafs, Berard took a high-stick to the right eye from the Senators’ Marian Hossa. Berard immediately fell to the ice in pain with blood streaming down his face. The injury was so bad that doctors feared that he might lose his eye entirely. He was diagnosed with a fractured orbital bone, cut cornea, and detached retina.
According to The Sportster, “After seven operations and being fit with a special lens to meet the NHL’s minimum vision requirement of 20/400, Berard returned to the NHL with the New York Rangers for the 2001-02 season and played several more years in the league.”
14. Steve Moore – Neck
On March 8, 2004. The Vancouver Canucks were looking to get revenge after Steve Moore who had checked their captain Markus Naslund in the head at the end of their previous encounter. Enforcer Todd Beruzzi hunted Moore down and “viciously attacked him from behind.”
According to Yahoo Sports, “The sucker-punch fractured Moore’s vertebrae, cut his face and gave him a concussion; his NHL career was finished. Bertuzzi, after tearfully apologizing, was suspended indefinitely by the NHL.” The incident received national coverage because of the brutality of the incident and the extent of the injury. Moore was knocked unconscious and never fully recovered. Bertuzzi was suspended for 20 games and his reputation was tarnished.
13. Richard Zednik- Neck
The second most gruesome and memorable incident on the list is when Florida Panthers’ Richard Zednik had his throat slashed by the skate of teammate Olli Jokinen.
Zednik ended up losing over five pints of blood and was diagnosed with a slashed carotid artery. The incident sparked debate about players wearing neck guards, as this was a situation the NHL was trying to avoid, or deter from happening again. Not easy when there are so many ways to get injured in the sport of hockey.
12. Clint Malarchuk- Jugular Vein
Almost 20 years before the Zednik incident, there was the most famous and gory NHL injury of them all when Buffalo Sabres goalie Clint Malarchuk had his jugular vein slashed by St. Louis Blues’ Steve Tuttle. The Blues forward got tangled up with Sabres defensemen Uwe Krupp and both landed on top of Malarchuk, with Tuttle’s skate slashing the goalie’s throat.
Nobody will ever forget the scene of Clint holding his throat as blood shot out onto the ice leaving a huge red pool. He quickly skated to the bench and into the locker room where he was rushed to the hospital for surgery. He famously said that he would never be carried off the ice unless he was dead. He wasn’t far off that day, as he almost died from the amount of blood he lost. It looked like a scene straight out of a horror movie. He returned to the ice 10 days later.
11. Steve Yzerman – Eye
The former Detroit Red Wings captain and Hall of Famer took a puck to the eye from a deflection off Calgary Flames goalie Mikka Kiprusoff in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals in 2004. In a horrific scene, Yzerman dropped to the ice like he had been shot.
It took four and a half hours of surgery at a Detroit hospital “to repair a scratched cornea and broken bone just below his left eye.” Obviously, he missed the rest of the post-season and returned the following year with a full face shield.
10. Trent McCleary – Throat
We’ve seen a lot of injuries due to players going down to block shots and getting hit with the puck. I remember Gary Galley catching a puck in the temple and having amnesia for a few days. On this occasion, Montreal Canadiens forward Trent McCleary took a Chris Therien slap shot to the throat.
According to Web MD, “McCleary very quickly got to his feet and skated toward the trainer. Because the puck had collapsed his windpipe he could not breathe. He was carried off the ice, and lost consciousness while in the tunnel. He easily could have died that night, but he was rushed to a hospital, and had an emergency tracheostomy within 10 minutes of leaving the arena.”
9. Donald Brashear – Head
Vancouver Canucks enforcer Donald Brashear was knocked unconscious by Boston’s Marty McSorley when he hit him in the head from behind with his stick. According to Northjersey.com, “The incident wound up in a Vancouver court, where McSorley’s bad-boy career was effectively ended when he was found guilty of assault with a weapon and sentenced to 18 months probation, though he avoided jail time. His NHL suspension lasted a year but no team expressed interest once he was eligible to play.”
The infamous incident will be remembered by many hockey fans as McSorley hit Brashear from behind with his stick, hitting him on the side of the head and knocking him unconscious for several minutes. The two had fought earlier in the game and McSorley wanted another go and was not happy at being denied the opportunity.
8. Gordie Howe- Fractured Skull
Another fractured skull, this time to Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe, during a 1950 playoff game against the Toronto Maple Leafs when Howe tried to check Ted Kennedy and missed, crashing head first into the boards and knocking himself unconscious.
Howe was diagnosed with a fractured skull and his family feared the worst as surgery was performed to relieve pressure on his brain. Fortunately, Howe made a full recovery and returned the following season “and scored 86 points to lead the league in scoring by 20 points en route to his first of four consecutive Art Ross trophies.”
7. Kevin Bieksa – Calf Muscle
In 2007, the thenVancouver Canucks defensemen was forced to miss 47 games after colliding with Nashville Predators Vernon Fiddler. Bieksa lacerated his calf muscle after the opponent’s skate sliced through his leg. In a shocking scene, blood filled the defensemen’s sock and left many fearing his career would be over. It took a “long, experimental rehab process” to recover.
We’ve seen a lot of these injuries over the years, including future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne who cut his own leg with his skate and missed over a month recovering from the gash. Those skates are extremely dangerous, as you will see as we get further down the list.
6. Chris Clark – Teeth
Well, we had to get at least one incident involving teeth on the list. We’ve mentioned the dangers of sticks, skates and big hits, but as you can see, the puck also does a lot of damage and is the cause of many of these gruesome injuries.
In 2006, Washington Capitals captain Chris Clark took a puck to the face against the Boston Bruins. According to the Washington Post, “Two of his top teeth are gone. Braces hold three others in place. His palate, meantime, was repaired with the aid of cadaver bone and a screw, inserted during three hours of surgery Thursday morning.”
5. Patrick Thoresen – Groin
Speaking of puck injuries, ever wonder what it’s like to block a shot with your genitalia? You don’t want to know, trust me. It happened to me once and I had to crawl back to the bench. Former Flyers forward Patrick Thoresen had a “potentially ruptured testicle” when he went down to block a Mike Green slap shot in the 2008 Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Luckily for Patrick, he managed to keep his testicles, barely, and he did manage to come back and finish the series, which the Flyers eventually won in seven games, but any injury involving taking one in the balls has to make the list.
4. Eric Lindros – Concussion
One of the biggest hits in NHL history and certainly one of the most memorable was when Scott Stevens caught Eric Lindros with his head down in game 7 of the 2000 Eastern Conference finals between the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers.
Stevens, known for his big open ice hits timed his hit on Lindros perfectly, resulting in a severe concussion as he laid on the ice motionless for several minutes. This hit in today’s game would probably result in a major penalty and game misconduct as Stevens’ shoulder made contact with Lindros’ face.
The hit ended Lindros career in Philly and “resulted in Lindros’ sixth concussion as a Flyer, but more significantly, it was his fourth in five months. He would sit out the entire following season with post-concussion syndrome,” according to CSN Philadelphia. His illustrious career would be cut short due to post-concussion syndrome.
3. Mark Howe- Back
December 27, 1980 will be remembered for a gruesome injury that changed the career of Mark Howe. Playing for the Hartford Whalers at the time (we miss the Whalers), defensemen Mark Howe slid into his own goal, lifting the net with his skates and causing the metal spikes that hold the goal in place to impale him. You read that right, impale.
Howe lost three and a half pints of blood and lost almost 20 pounds in body weight due to the injury. Luckily for Howe, the goal spike that impaled him just missed his spinal column. He returned to the lineup that season, but wasn’t the same player. He eventually got traded to Philadelphia and went on to have a long and successful career.
2. Ace Bailey- Fractured Skull
The former Maple Leaf Great had his career ended on December 12, 1933 against the Boston Bruins. Eddie Shore, angered by a hit from one of Bailey’s teammates, took his anger out on Bailey by tripping him from behind. Bailey hit the ice and fractured his skull. He was then rushed to the hospital after suffering cerebral hemorrhaging, which he almost died from. “After two surgeries to relieve pressure on his brain”, Bailey managed to recover.
According to The Sportster, “On February 14, 1934 the NHL held its very first All-Star Game to raise money for Bailey and his family. Prior to the game Ace Bailey and Eddie Shore shook hands, signaling that all had been forgiven between the two.”
1. Bill Masterton – Death
Minnesota North Stars Bill Masterton “is the only player in NHL history to die as a direct result from on ice injuries.” Masterton was hit by two players from the Oakland Seals “and fell backwards landing on his head and knocking him unconscious.” He died 30 hours later as a result from the injury to his head.
In his memory, “Masterton has had his name immortalized by the NHL with a trophy baring his name given out annually for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” It was a sad day for the NHL and luckily no players have died as a result of their on ice injuries ever since.