Clutterbuck, Karlsson remind us hockey is a game of pain

The sport of hockey can be a beautiful thing to behold. It’s the fluidity of motion up and down the ice surface, the play constantly flowing like a dancer’s streamer. It’s Evgeni Malkin galloping through the neutral zone, waving his stick like a magic wand and making an entire teams disappear into thin air.

It’s Pavel Datsyuk commanding his stick with such precision that his name has been turned into an adjective: Datsyukian

It’s also the small, seemingly irrelevant plays that are easily overlooked but infinitely appreciated by the few people who recognize them, like Sidney Crosby tipping a puck to himself while whizzing into the attacking zone.

If soccer is the beautiful game, hockey is the beautiful game on ice.

But every once in a while, we are reminded about the true duality of hockey. It might take some unique abilities to deliver a precise wrister into the top shelf or to shield a puck away from a defender while working toward the net, but the game also requires courage and the willingness to take a beating.

The arena that displays greatness and beauty is also the home to brutality and pain.

The NHL has claimed more teeth than candy, soda and incompetent dentists combined. It’s routine for a player to ruin their orthodontist’s handiwork on any given night and it’s as common to see blood on the ice as it is to find tobacco juice on a Major League Baseball diamond.

But despite all the gore, pain and continual discomfort, NHL players just seem to keep calm and carry on. They have an unfathomable pain threshold and are able to compete at a world-class level while enduring physical trauma that would horrify and incapacitate normal folks.

NHL players seem to be able to tolerate just about any kind of pain, so when you see incidents like in Edmonton last week and in Pittsburgh in mid-February, it sends chills down your spine.

Last Thursday, Minnesota Wild winger Cal Clutterbuck collided with Edmonton Oiler Taylor Hall with about two minutes left to play in the third period. As he neared center ice, Clutterbuck unsuccessfully attempted to play the puck with his skate an instant before Hall glided up the red line and delivered the hit.

Clutterbuck never saw it coming.

As you can see from the video, Clutterbuck was in an immense amount of pain and remained writhing at center ice for minutes after the collision. He might be the prototypical tough guy in hockey, but his pain reduced him to a squirming body in agony. That’s what makes it tough to watch.

Hall received a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for kneeing, while Clutterbuck was assisted by teammates and medical staff down the runway of Rexall Place.

The Edmonton forward was suspended two games and fined $9,729.72. Clutterbuck missed games Thursday and Sunday with a thigh contusion. He will also miss Tuesday’s game against Calgary.

Editor’s Note: Hall’s hit might seem especially familiar to Penguins fans and Bruins fans. Pittsburgh defenseman Ulf Samuelsson hit Cam Neely in a similar fashion in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. That hit (and another knee-on-knee from Samuelsson) ultimately shortened Neely’s career, leading him to acquire a condition known as myositis ossificans.

Another incident that gave both NHL players and fans a reality check happened to reining Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson on February 13. Pittsburgh Penguin Matt Cooke (formerly noted for being a dirty player) attempted to pin the Ottawa defenseman against the boards by skating in behind him and raising his left skate. The skate blade cut Karlsson’s left Achilles tendon nearly the whole way through, leaving him screaming in pain and barely able to get off the ice.

Karlsson will miss the rest of the season after doctors surgically repaired his Achilles. The NHL decided that the play wasn’t illegal and Cooke was neither fined nor suspended.

This play was even scarier than the Clutterbuck incident. It’s easy to forget that these 200-pound athletes are flying around the ice on a pair of razor sharp blades. That is, until someone gets cut like Karlsson.

You could immediately tell that the 22-year-old D-man was in trouble, both after seeing this now famous picture from AP photographer Gene J. Puskar and upon noticing the anguish in Karlsson’s face after he tried to put weight on the injured leg.

Editor’s Note: Karlsson’s injury is gruesome, but far from the worst skate accidents to ever hit the NHL. If you want a graphic reminder, here’s a couple you might remember. (Warning, these videos are not for the faint of heart.)

 Goalie Clint Malarchuk gets throat cut by skate.

 Richard Zednik gets throat cut by skate.

Both Malarchuk and Zednik survived the incidents and returned to NHL action.

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About Pete Dombrosky
Pete is a graduate of Penn State University and a life-long Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates fan. He covered men's hockey, golf, tennis, swimming and the enterprise beat as a reporter at the Daily Collegian, Penn State's award-winning, independent student-operated paper. He currently serves as the Assistant Managing Editor for Thrillist Media Group (www.thrillist.com).

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