The world of hockey was recently shaken by a tragic incident reminiscent of a harrowing event that haunted former goaltender Clint Malarchuk for decades. Adam Johnson, a 29-year-old forward for the Nottingham Panthers, lost his life after his neck was cut by a skate blade during a game in the Elite Ice Hockey League on October 28. This devastating event prompted an outpouring of messages and media inquiries to Malarchuk, who suffered a near-fatal injury on the ice in a similar manner.
In a recent interview, Malarchuk opened up about the emotional toll these events have on him, highlighting the importance of mental health support. “I have to be really conscious of what’s going on,” he stated. “The PTSD is real. It definitely triggers. But I have my tools.”
The stress hit Malarchuk immediately as he scrolled through the avalanche of messages. Despite his initial intention to stay away from the details of Johnson’s death, he found it impossible to avoid. “Total anxiety. I can feel it. It overwhelms you,” he confessed.
Back in February 2008, when a similar incident involving Florida Panthers forward Richard Zednik occurred, Malarchuk wasn’t as prepared to deal with the emotional aftermath. He was bombarded with media inquiries and subsequently relived his own horrifying experience, which had made headlines in the past.
In 1989, playing for the Buffalo Sabres, Malarchuk had his jugular vein cut by a skate blade during a collision in the crease. He narrowly escaped death thanks to the swift actions of the team’s training staff and doctors. Despite this near-death experience, he remarkably returned to the ice just ten days later, receiving a standing ovation from a grateful crowd.
However, the public celebration and admiration couldn’t shield him from the mental health challenges that followed. Malarchuk endured obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, alcohol addiction, anxiety, and panic attacks. For years, he struggled alone, resisting help and keeping his struggles hidden from even his closest friends.
The incident involving Zednik in 2008 intensified Malarchuk’s emotional turmoil. “I was reliving that accident over and over,” he said. “I had no tools then.” In October 2008, he attempted suicide.
His journey towards healing took a significant turn in 2014 when he co-wrote his memoir, “The Crazy Game” (published as “A Matter of Inches” in the United States), in which he candidly shared his struggle with mental health issues. After a suicide attempt, he was finally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Messages from well-wishers in the wake of Johnson’s tragedy have overwhelmed Malarchuk. While he appreciates the concern, he also expressed how the kindness can be a double-edged sword. “People are texting me out of concern,” he said. “I go from ‘Thanks for thinking of me’ to ‘Would you guys leave me alone — you’re making it worse.'”
The vivid nightmares related to his own traumatic incident returned a few years ago, but with the help of therapy, he managed to conquer them. He remains hopeful that these nightmares will stay at bay.
Reflecting on the recent tragedy, Malarchuk initially felt the need to avoid media requests and focus on his own well-being. However, after reading an article about Johnson’s life and the heartfelt tributes from his friends and family, he shifted his perspective. “I really feel just terrible for his family,” he said.
Malarchuk thought about his own experiences and how they had impacted so many. He considered those who were deeply affected by Johnson’s death and the potential trauma they might experience. He urged people to seek counseling if they were struggling, emphasizing the realness of PTSD. “Don’t go undiagnosed for 20 years, like me,” he urged.
Clint Malarchuk’s story serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of mental health support and the need to address emotional trauma. His courageous advocacy may help others find the help and healing they need during challenging times.