Friday, May 11, 2007

Pronger's Duress In '98 Still Burns In My Memory

It happened about nine years ago, and it scared the bejeebers out of me.

Chris Pronger -- tall, young, brick wall of a defenseman, was down on the ice, his eyes rolled back into his head, having collapsed after doing a grotesque little pirouette, his birch tree trunk-like legs suddenly turned to cooked spaghetti.

The affliction was a shot puck, and it had struck Pronger, then 23, square in the chest. Normally not a terrible thing, but this puck caught Pronger just the right (wrong?) way, temporarily jarring his heart, they said. He stayed on his feet for a few seconds, then did the pirouette before crumbling.

It was during the Western Conference semifinals at Joe Louis Arena, when Pronger's Blues battled the Red Wings in 1998. I forget which game it was, but I think it was one of the first two played in Detroit. Pronger had gotten his big chest in the way of the puck, and you wouldn't have thought it could have caused such a horrific physical reaction, but it did.

Pronger gave us a scare in 1998

The JLA crowd went hushed. We'd been used to this sort of thing before in Detroit, but always on the football field. Chuck Hughes. Mike Utley. Reggie Brown. The usual feelings of dread and the sight of players from both teams joining hands in prayer. The sounds of pins dropping.

But this was the first time, that I knew of, it ever happened on the ice. Medical staff tended to Pronger while those of us at home were subjected to one television replay after another as the announcers tried to determine how such a relatively routine instance could cause such duress.

The scariest part, to me, was when I caught, on the replays, Pronger's eyes rolling back. I'd never seen an athlete go like that before, and I hope I never do again. It was impossible not to think of the worst. Then it dawned on me that you read about these things from time to time -- but usually it's a little leaguer, his small chest struck by a pitched or batted baseball. Sometimes the worst happened there, too.

Turned out Pronger was fine, though I can't remember if he returned later in the series or not (the Wings won, 4 games to 2). But not before he gave us all a scare.

Today Pronger is 32 and is rightfully one of the finalists for the Norris Trophy, along with his teammate, Scott Niedermayer. He's still big, still like a brick wall, but now with experience and a few more scars. And he'll be more than a handful for the Red Wings forwards in the conference finals, which get underway tonight at JLA.

I've never been able to watch Pronger play without thinking back to that scary afternoon at the Joe nine springs ago. Thankfully he recovered and showed no ill-effects from the puck to the chest. No Jiri Fischer, he. Good for him. Good for hockey.

1 comment:

auxlepli said...

I remember this incident very well too, but could have sworn it was in St. Louis. Anyway I felt sorry for him then. However I didn't know then what a cheat player he is. Now if that happened, I might not feel so sorry for him