Panthers Richard Zednik discusses his neck injury. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/J. Pat Carter
SUNRISE, Fla. - Richard Zednik felt a stabbing pain in his neck and knew he had to get to the bench - fast.
Once there, the Florida Panthers right-winger thought of his four-year-old daughter, Ella. "I remember thinking, 'Am I going to see her grow up?"' Zednik said.
The ghastly accident happened Feb. 10 in Buffalo. Teammate Olli Jokinen was upended and his skate swung up, cutting Zednik's neck. His carotid artery was sliced but not completely severed, and the blade missed his jugular vein.
"I felt like somebody stabbed me," Zednik said Thursday at his first news conference since the injury. "I knew exactly what happened and I knew exactly what I had to do. ... When I got to the bench, I knew it was an artery, the way the blood was going. I don't want to think about it, but I was in pretty bad shape."
Zednik underwent surgery and was discharged from Buffalo General Hospital a week ago. He returned to South Florida a day later. Now he wants to play as soon as possible.
"I can't wait to get back and be with the guys," he said.
The 32-year-old forward bears a long red scar down the right side of his scruffy neck, courtesy of the surgery. The scar intersects the four-centimetre cut left by Jokinen's skate.
Zednik said that during his recovery he's been shopping for cars online and spending time with Ella. The Panthers' website has received more than 20,000 get-well messages. Zednik also took a call from the president of his native Slovakia, Ivan Gasparovic.
"It was short," Zednik said. "He's such a nice guy."
A video of the accident posted online has been viewed more than a million times, but Zednik said he has seen the footage only once and won't watch it again. He said he was at first hesitant to see it, but curiosity took over.
"At first when I was in the Buffalo hospital, I was like, 'No, I don't want to watch.' I was like still kind of in shock," he said. "But then when I got back to Florida ... I was curious, exactly, how the skate came to the neck.
"I watched it once. That's enough."
It's doubtful Zednik will return this season. Florida coach Jacques Martin said he expects Zednik's recovery to take about eight weeks. The regular season ends April 5, and there may be no postseason for the Panthers.
Still, the team was glad to find Zednik on the mend.
"It's nice to see Richard back and looking good," Martin said. "Knowing that he can fully recover is what I think is most important."
Zednik's accident came nearly two decades after the neck of Sabres goaltender Clint Malarchuk was slashed in a similar accident. Malarchuk recovered but later struggled with nightmares and flashbacks.
He has tried to get a message to Zednik through the Panthers' front office, but Zednik said he'd rather not discuss the injury.
"I don't think it's something I want to talk about," he said. "I want to focus on my career. I just think I'll be OK."
Few NHL players wear neck guards, but Zednik is now thinking about how he can better protect himself. Neck guards generally are used in the junior and amateur levels, not the pros.
"For sure, I'm going to look for something," he said.
A 12-year veteran, Zednik has 15 goals and 11 assists in 54 games this season, his first with the Panthers. He didn't manage a single point over 16 games from Dec. 28 to Feb. 1, but he had six goals and three assists in the four games that preceded the game in which he was hurt.
"I think his teammates really care for Richard," Martin said. "The fact that we know he's going to recover fully and he can get back to enjoying life - I think that's a big lift."