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How Maple Leafs staff helped save rec league player from cut skate to throat: ‘I thought I was going to die’


It was inside the Toronto Maple Leafs locker room where Ike Werner first allowed himself to believe he would survive.

After having his throat accidentally cut by a skate blade during a recreational league game Sunday afternoon at NHL At the team’s practice facility earlier this month, a terrifying experience turned surreal when the 37-year-old looked over and saw Maple Leafs forward Nick Robertson receiving treatment in an adjacent room.

“That was my visual,” Werner said Athleticism. “We’re working on him.”

Werner had noticed the luxury cars behind the closed section of the parking lot when he stopped at the Ford Performance Center that afternoon. The Zamboni was also resurfacing the ice earlier than usual, so he figured the Leafs had been skating on Rink 2 before his “Prestige Worldwide” team took on the “Jagrbombs” in the True North Hockey League.

That fact became much more important to him when, on his third shift of the game, he suffered a horrific cut and sought help, only to find himself under the care of Leafs athletic therapists Paul Ayotte and Neill Davidson .

“They were so good,” Werner said. “They were so calm and that kind of helped ground me, if you will, because I was in a spiral.”

It’s not a place a recreational league player could reasonably imagine finding themselves in — even after the October death of former NHL player Adam Johnson while playing professionally in England.

This tragedy highlighted the need for more cut-resistant equipment in the sport and saw players of all levels start wearing them. Werner remembers the topic being discussed among his men’s league team in the fall and said he even tried, unsuccessfully, to buy a neck guard at that time.

As one of the oldest players in a reasonably competitive league, he was more careful than most about his equipment by wearing wrist guards, cut-resistant socks and, after wearing a visor (pictured at top), it recently moved into a full face shield.

“When Adam Johnson died, you couldn’t buy neck braces,” Werner said. “I tried. It was a few months ago and I probably could have continued, but I didn’t.

“One of the things I told my wife was, ‘It’s a recreational league.’ It’s not as fast. The equipment is not at this level. The skates are not as sharp. This won’t happen in the recreational league.

Except when it happened.

Werner has no memory of what happened. None of his teammates were sure immediately afterwards either.

In fact, it wasn’t until Werner’s league manager sent out a clip taken from a 360-degree camera set up in the arena on Tuesday evening that anyone got a clear picture of what happened. pass.

The room seemed as harmless as possible. Standing in the crease in front of his own goal, Werner pushed a loose puck as an opponent approached and ended up knocking him off balance. As the opponent fell to the ice, his right skate rose up and caught Werner under the mask.

Incredibly, the force of the impact did not knock Werner down, although it did leave him with significant bruising to his upper chest and neck that remained a week after the February 4 incident. He also opened a cut that required 12 stitches to close.

The video clip confirmed the only aspect of the sequence Werner clearly remembered: He picked up his fallen stick after the collision and skated under his own power to the bench.

What also stood out in his memory was how little pain he felt immediately after the play and how little blood there seemed to be. He said it looked like a small abrasion or burn on the jersey. Except that when he returned to the bench, an official told him that he had to leave the playing area immediately.

Longtime teammate Jack McVeigh accompanied Werner to the locker room after getting a brief glimpse of what his buddy was up against.

“It was pretty shocking that he was alive once you saw the injury,” McVeigh said. “He takes his hand off his neck and you go, ‘Oooooh. Holy shit.’

“I don’t even know what was going through my mind other than ‘You need to fix this.'”

Werner didn’t lose his cool until he saw the gash in a mirror back in the dressing room. According to McVeigh, he immediately turned white.

There was a brief discussion about calling an ambulance and going to the arena lobby until Werner remembered the Leafs were in the building. He caught the attention of Armando Cavalheiro, who works as a cameraman for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and was standing nearby after covering practice. Cavalheiro began banging on the back locker room door until it was opened and Werner was let in.

He was immediately treated by Davidson and Ayotte, the Leafs’ medical staff, who applied pressure to the neck area and examined the injury. They eventually closed it with Steri Strips and bandaged Werner after determining he needed to go to the hospital for additional tests before putting in stitches.

Just as importantly, they assured that everything would be okay.

“They were so good,” Werner said. “By asking me a few questions: ‘Can you breathe well?’ » “Can you swallow, OK?” » Like this kind of thing, you just have to exclude anything serious and serious.

“They say, ‘You’re lucky to be alive.’

Under normal circumstances, they might not have been there to help someone injured in a recreational championship game at 4 p.m.

The Leafs usually practice at noon, but didn’t skate that day until 2:45 p.m., because the team was returning from the All-Star break and league rules dictated no mandatory activities. was scheduled before mid-afternoon.

The father of a 3-month-old child, Werner drove to St. Joseph Hospital alone with only a quick message sent to his wife that he had been cut and was doing well. He was immediately admitted to a hospital bed and received his stitches at 5:15 p.m., just an hour after coming off the ice.

Because the pad that skimmed it was so sharp, the cut was clean and easy to sew. Local anesthesia was applied and Werner began bleeding profusely while doctors examined the depth of the wound. He had to throw away the shirt he was wearing in favor of one McVeigh had dropped off for him at the hospital.

However, it was good news. A CT scan showed the skate had cut the muscle but not through it, making surgery unnecessary.

One of the emergency room doctors told Werner that she played hockey at a high level recreationally and vowed not to return to the ice without first having her own neck guard.

“He missed my vocal cords, my esophagus, my arteries, my veins, everything,” Werner said. “I’m just lucky. I’m just lucky.

He didn’t even spend the night in the hospital.

Ike Werner has switched to a full face shield since this photo was taken. However, he couldn’t find a neck guard.

Werner’s brush with death brought him into contact with five different highly trained medical professionals between the time he was cut by the skate and the time he finally returned home to a long embrace from his wife .

Each of them told him how lucky they were to get through the door.

It got him thinking about all the what-ifs of a day that will almost certainly scar him for the rest of his life.

For starters, the weather had been unusually nice that Sunday, and while out for a walk with his newborn, he considered skipping the hockey game altogether. What if he chose to stay home?

What if his team wasn’t short of a defender for this match and he played his normal forward position instead?

What if he had gotten up and tried to rejoin the game rather than skating to the bench after being ruled out? Would his body have been able to withstand this continuous effort?

What if the cut was just a little deeper or tilted an inch or two in a different direction?

What if the Leafs were operating on their normal schedule that afternoon and medical personnel were not yet in the building to respond to his call for help?

“I thought I was going to die and they told me, ‘You’re not going to die. You are very lucky.’ And they fixed me,” Werner said. “I credit them for just making sure I was OK. At that point I wasn’t bleeding much, but if I had just been taken to the hospital, who knows what would have happened?

“In the end, there was a lot of blood.”

He doesn’t consider himself a religious or spiritual person, but he certainly has family members and friends who believe a greater power was watching over him that day.

It wasn’t easy to calm his mind long enough to get restful sleep in the aftermath of a situation where Werner himself notes: “I almost orphaned my child and my wife was going to be a widow.” »

The last place he expected to find himself when he showed up for a Sunday recreational championship game was the Maple Leafs locker room.

He’s lucky he did.

“I’m not a Leafs fan, I’m a Calgary fan — but I just joked, “I might be a Leafs fan now,” Werner said. “Not from a team perspective, but from a behind-the-scenes perspective.”

(Photos courtesy of Ike Werner)


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