It’s pretty easy for people to sit back and say, “Hey, these guys are professionals who make millions of dollars to play a game. They should be able to put personal matters aside and perform.” But NHL players are also human beings and are vulnerable to the same emotional trauma as the rest of us.
That’s why the performances of both the Dallas Stars and Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday night were so impressive. The Stars and Blue Jackets had to be emotionally devastated by the collapse of Rich Peverley on the bench with a cardiac condition the night before that caused the postponement of their game. But they’re also both involved in heated races for the playoffs and simply could not use that as an excuse.
People would have understood if the Stars and Blue Jackets had come out flat in their games Tuesday night, and that was certainly the case with the Blue Jackets being outshot 18-8 in the first period of their game against Detroit. But both teams rallied for hard-fought victories to keep their spot in the playoffs. The Blue Jackets scored twice in 40 seconds in and three times in just over five minutes in the third period to cruise to a 4-1 victory over the Red Wings, while the Stars got an overtime goal from Jamie Benn to defeat the Blues, the top team in the NHL. The 3-2 loss for the Blues marked their first defeat in the five games Ryan Miller has played since joining them before the trade deadline.
Stars coach Lindy Ruff said his team was in no condition to play after Peverley collapsed early in the first period Monday night, but it managed to get to St. Louis for the Tuesday night game and played a spirited game, battling in the faceoff circle and competing for every loose puck. Nobody would have blamed the Stars if they had been forced to deal with the Peverley situation and travel to St. Louis and laid an egg against the best team in the NHL. But instead of using the Peverley incident as a crutch, they rallied around their teammate and their win definitely had a feel of “Let’s win one for Rich Peverley” to it.
These have been rather difficult times in the hockey world of late. Just hours after the Peverley incident, the body of Saginaw Spirit center Terry Trafford was found in his truck in the parking lot of a Walmart in Saginaw Township. Trafford, who turned just 20 years old last month, had been sent home by the team for allegedly smoking marijuana on a recent road trip. His girlfriend told several media outlets that Trafford was living with depression and was devastated about being sent home.
All the while, another junior player, Tim Bozon of the Kootenay Ice, remains in an induced coma in a Saskatoon hospital after a bout of severe meningitis. Bozon’s agent, Roland Thompson, said the Western League’s Saskatoon Blades, the Ice’s opponent the night Bozon fell ill, have been incredibly supportive and have taken in and taken care of Bozon’s family through the ordeal.
But we have come to expect these kinds of things from people in the hockey community. It’s because they care. David Branch, the commissioner of the OHL, was quick to ensure that grief counselors will be on hand in Saginaw Wednesday morning to help the players cope and has postponed their game against Sault Ste. Marie Wednesday night. Branch said he wants to find out how the players feel before deciding what to do about Saginaw’s last three games of the season. There could be playoff-seeding implications to consider, but Branch said he is thinking of Trafford’s family and his Saginaw teammates first.
“It’s an unprecedented situation,” Branch said, “and it may cause us to take unprecedented action.”
There have been reports of depression and drug use in the Trafford situation, but it’s far too early to tell exactly what led to Trafford’s death. Sometime soon, we should be able to find out to what extent those were factors and how much the league and Spirit did to help a young man who appeared to be troubled.
Those are questions for another day. Right now, the hockey community should be proud of the way the OHL and Branch has handled the situation. And it should be just as proud of the character and strength the Stars and Blue Jackets displayed under difficult circumstances Tuesday night.