(photo courtesy: Fred Zwicky/ Peoria Journal Star)
Hockey is a fast game and injuries happen, from high speed collisions mid ice to board rattling checks that leave a player crumpled on the ice. As difficult as these are to watch, there is probably nothing more frightening for the players and fans alike than when a player suffers an injury that involves a serious gash and blood loss. The contact is inadvertent and it usually happens when players get tangled together, a stray skate blade finds that one place where padding doesn’t protect and the results are traumatic and life threatening.
This is exactly the situation SPHL Huntsville Havoc center Justin Cseter found himself in on Saturday night’s tilt against the Peoria Rivermen. As he went to the corner near the Havoc goal, Cseter collided with Rivermen Dennis Sicard, falling onto Sicard’s skate as he was down on all fours. The skate found the unprotected area of Cseter’s thigh between his pants and the top part of his kneepads and left a gash one and a half inches deep and six inches wide. With blood quickly flowing from the wound, he tried to skate back to the bench only to collapse onto the ice near the slot. Teammates rushed to his aid, to stem the flow of blood until paramedics could get to the ice surface. They had to work quickly, eventually using a broken hockey stick to help apply a tourniquet to the leg to slow the blood loss. A full recap of the event along with video and details of his on-ice treatment can be found detailed by Peoria Journal Star reporter Dave Eminian here. The game was officially suspended and players from both teams met at center ice to salute the fans, shake hands and embrace as a show of solidarity for their fallen hockey brother.
Thankfully, Cseter did not suffer any damage to the main artery. The cut, though deep, involved just the muscle tissue and he was able to get stitches and staples at a local Peoria Hospital to close the wound. In a show of true team spirit, the Havoc waited for Cseter to be released from the hospital and took him with them on the bus to make the 602 mile trek back to Alabama. Havoc Head Coach Glenn Detulleo told the PJ Star, “We waited for him. The doctors said he needed to be laying flat on the bus, so we had a bunk ready.”
The hockey community is one big family and the Peoria Rivermen Booster Club donated their 50/50 raffle proceeds for the night to help cover the cost of Cseter’s medical expenses and housing for his family, who were visiting from Wisconsin and watched the unfortunate accident unfold in front of them on the ice.
“Those Peoria folks are compassionate, classy people,” Coach Detulleo told the PJ Star. “The Peoria medical staff, the Rivermen organization and their booster club were wonderful in the way they handled the situation.”
Cseter agreed and said, “I thought it was thoughtful, very compassionate for the two teams to get together like they did, suspend the game and salute the fans.”
He was truly appreciative of the medical staff and to the fans who worked to save him. It will be a long road back to recover from such a deep injury, especially since it is one of the prime skating muscles that was damaged. Cseter is optimistic but knows it will be a slow process to heal the muscle and regain strength.
It is difficult to protect everything in hockey without sacrificing flexibility. Hockey pants have come a long way but they still have to be flexible enough to allow a player to open up their stride on the ice, which leaves an exposed gap. Kevlar socks were introduced after players like San Jose Sharks goaltender Alex Stalock suffered a season ending injury to his leg when he got stepped on, slicing his nerve. The cut resistant socks gained in popularity after Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators had his Achilles heel cut from a stray skate. The socks, although effective for protection below the knee, have their limitations too. Winnipeg Jets player Zach Redmond was wearing Kevlar socks when he got cut behind the knee during a morning practice, leaving a wide gash that sent him off in an ambulance. Clearly in the case of Cseter’s injury, socks weren’t the issue as the gash came to the thigh, an area the socks just don’t reach.
Sports apparel companies like BodyArmour do make protective base layers that maximize Kevlar protection in key areas such as the calf, ankle and wrist but so far even their innovative Base360 line has yet to include Kevlar in the thigh area. It is no joke that skates are sharp, probably even more so now with blade technology reaching new levels as players seek every edge on the ice. Is it time for Kevlar fabric to come into play further up? No doubt, high performance base layers are pricey, but given the severity of injury, both with respect to career-ending and potentially life threatening, it may be money well spent.