The San Jose Sharks know that hockey players, given the physical demands of their sport, are not immune to cardiac emergencies like the one that has left Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin in critical condition in a Cincinnati hospital.
Hamlin’s heart stopped and he collapsed on the field after he made a tackle in the first quarter of the Bills’ Monday Night Football game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Hamlin was treated on the field for close to 20 minutes, receiving CPR, before he was taken away by ambulance as his Bills teammates knelt in prayer.
“In the back of your head, you’re for sure thinking that could happen to me, that could happen to one of my close friends, that could happen to anyone,” said Sharks defenseman Nick Cicek, who, at 22, is two years younger than Hamlin.
“That’s the scary part about it. I mean, we’re putting our bodies on the line every day. Obviously, it’s a little different than football but still a very physical sport at a fast pace.
“Yeah, I would say that was definitely a little bit of an eye-opener.”
Close to 25 years ago, Chris Pronger, then with the St. Louis Blues, blocked a shot with his chest in a 1998 playoff game in Detroit. Pronger collapsed on the ice and lost consciousness, and it was determined he suffered commotio cordis, as the impact of the puck caused his heart to skip a beat.
Thankfully, Pronger was playing games again within a week.
“Prayers that Damar Hamlin can have the same outcome that I was fortunate to have with my incident,” Pronger tweeted Tuesday. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Damar, his family, teammates, and the greater NFL community during this incredibly scary time.”
Hamlin was hurt as he tackled Bengals receiver Tee Higgins. Details about what caused Hamlin’s heart to stop had not yet emerged as of late Tuesday afternoon.
“Those guys are like us. They’re peak athletes in the prime of their athletic lives and you expect to be healthy and in tip-top shape,” Sharks forward Steven Lorentz said. “You see (Hamlin) take a hit like that and go down, nobody likes to see that.
“So it just puts it into perspective. It’s a dangerous game, football, and in hockey, things like that can happen.”
Hamlin’s terrifying incident came just over three years after longtime NHL defensemen Jay Bouwmeester, then with St. Louis, collapsed on the Blues’ bench after a shift in a Feb. 2020 game with the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center.
Bouwmeester was unresponsive before doctors quickly used a defibrillator to restore his pulse. He regained consciousness and was taken by ambulance to a local hospital.
Bouwmeester was later able to return to St. Louis but was forced to retire at the age of 36 after he had surgery to insert a defibrillator to restore his heart’s normal rhythm.
St. Louis Blues defenseman Vince Dunn, left, of center wipes his face as Anaheim Ducks defenseman Josh Manson kneels on the ice while blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who suffered a medical emergency, is worked on by medical personnel during the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
In Nov. 2016, Craig Cunningham, then a 26-year-old with the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL, had a heart attack on collapsed on the ice before a game with the Manitoba Moose.
Cunningham stayed alive thanks to advance CPR techniques, although he later had to have his left leg amputated below the knee after an infection set in due to circulation issues.
The NHL has strengthened its emergency medical standards twice in the last 18 years after scary cardiac incidents involving players.
In 2005, Jiri Fischer, then of the Detroit Red Wings, had his life saved during a game by a nearby team doctor and a defibrillator after his heart stopped beating.
Afterward, the NHL required that each team have two doctors near the benches at each home game, with at least one trained in Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS). Also, each team needed an automated external defibrillator at the home bench and another on an ambulance dedicated to the players.
In 2014, after Rich Peverley’s cardiac incident when he was with the Dallas Stars, the NHL required three doctors to be near the benches at each home game – an orthopedist, a primary care physician, and an ER physician. At least one doctor needed to have current training in ATLS.
San Jose Sharks’ 2018 first-round draft pick requests trade
Veteran defenseman scores in milestone game as Sharks snap losing skid
Sharks’ Karlsson ties record but Pavelski haunts former team in Dallas Stars victory
San Jose Sharks, with Mike Grier and David Quinn, seek answers in 2023
2022: The Year in Pictures
Sharks coach David Quinn said he was playing a pickup basketball game when he was 23, and a man he was guarding, someone he didn’t know, had a heart attack.
Quinn, now 56, said a doctor actually playing in the game tried to resuscitate him, but the man died shortly afterward.
“It was a pretty traumatic experience for me,” Quinn said, “so I can only imagine what everybody felt last night in that game.”
“Every day there’s a possibility for injury (in hockey),” Cicek said. “so we just try to stay prepared, keep our bodies in shape and go from there and honestly, pray and be thankful for the best and for good health for everyone in the room.”