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NHL fans: Say it ain't snow, Joe

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / December 14, 2008
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Joe Sakic, a shoo-in Hall of Famer, met up with the wrong end (is there a right end?) of a snowblower last week, mangling his hand while trying to dislodge a plug of snow. He required surgery to repair three broken fingers and tendon damage, and is expected to be lost to the Avalanche for at least three months.

For the many mechanically challenged of us, it's far easier to imagine committing the same sort of dimwitted accident than it is, say, scoring 40 goals or recording 100 points in a season (things Captain Joe has done routinely throughout a career that has included a pair of Cups, 1996 and 2001, with Colorado).

Luckily for Sakic, he did not lose a finger. The machine was off, the damage occurring when he rooted his hand in to clear the plugged snow, ultimately triggering its inner workings to shift and crunch down on his hand.

If ever there was a good reason to keep an old wooden hockey stick in the garage, to be jammed down the machine's clogged chute in such instances, regular use of a snowblower is the reason.

Sakic, 39, already was out of the lineup undergoing therapy for a herniated disk. He was not expected to return until next month, and it could be that this injury prevents him from suiting up again. Sad, if that were the case, but if so, his career line would read: 625-1,016 -1,641 in 1,378 games. Not too shabby for the 15th pick in the 1987 draft.

The Sakic episode was a fluke, sure, but no crazier than the injury to St. Louis defenseman Erik Johnson last summer in the midst of training camp. Out on the golf course with his fellow Blues for a team-bonding session, Johnson, commandeering the wheel of a cart, ripped up a knee when jamming a foot between the brake pedal and accelerator. Already with one leg out of the cart as he slowly rolled the vehicle toward his ball, he tore an ACL when his jammed foot caused the cart to lurch forward. Major surgery followed, thus scrubbing the big blue liner's sophomore season.

Three of the more infamous off-ice injuries endured by NHLers:

Legendary goalie Terry Sawchuk died May 31, 1970, days after having a fight at home with Rangers teammate Ron Stewart. The brawlers crashed in a heap over a barbecue grill, with Stewart's legs jamming into the 40-year-old Sawchuk's midsection. Hospitalized for internal bleeding, Sawchuk soon succumbed to a blood clot in his lung.

In the summer of 1988, John Vanbiesbrouck sat down at home on a glass coffee table, only to have it shatter. While reaching back to break his fall, he sliced open his left wrist, sustaining extensive nerve and tendon damage. Doctors patched him up and JVB was on the Rangers' opening night roster for 1988-89.

Doug Wickenheiser was in the midst of a career renaissance with the Blues in 1984 when he joined teammates in a "snipe" hunt - a good-spirited hazing that was designed to send teammates Gilbert Delorme and Kevin LaVallee off to the slammer. Wick, among those dispatched to get pizza for the wrongly incarcerated, fell out of the back up a pickup truck - and into the path of a slowly accelerating oncoming car. He was left with complete tears in both the MCL and ACL of his left knee.

Call-up from minors truly a major deal
Joe Callahan, originally from Abington and a Globe All-Scholastic at BC High, left Yale after three seasons to pursue his dream to play in the NHL. On Tuesday, after 4 1/2 seasons in the minors, he finally got the call, summoned to Philadelphia to help the Islanders take on the Flyers.

"I know this sounds a little sappy, but what I think I'll remember most of the whole thing was making the call home to tell my parents," said Callahan, who was returned to the minors (Bridgeport) the next day. "After all my dad [Steven] and my mom [Audrey] went through - you know, up at 5 a.m. to get me and my brother Steven to practices - it was just great to make that call and say, 'Hey, guess what, I'm going up.' "

Callahan, who will turn 26 Saturday, suited up on right defense, clocking 13 minutes 45 seconds across 20 shifts. He did not score a point and finished minus-2 in the 4-3 loss. Called up on an emergency basis, he flew with the club to Pittsburgh the next day for practice, but later in the day was returned to the minors when an ailing Andy Sutton returned to active duty.

"It's a little disappointing to be back down," said Callahan, reached Friday as he prepared for a game in Norfolk, Va. "But [the Islanders] have eight defensemen, and I realized from the start it was an emergency [recall]. I played a lot with [Chris] Campoli and [Brendan ] Witt and I felt pretty comfortable out there. Hey, I had a long wait - five years in the minors - and it's always been my dream to make it up there. It was just great to get that call, and to wait that long, like anything else, it probably made it mean all the more to me." And what did his dad say when he picked up the phone in Abington? "I think he was silent there for about 45 seconds," recalled Joe. "I think he might have been shaking. You know, he said what you'd expect, 'I'm so proud of you - you deserve it.' " But it was one of those funny phone calls, like he didn't know what to say."

Etc.
Waiting to welcome Mats
Mats Sundin, still with a two-year, $20 million offer to join the Canucks, as of Friday had a date to sit down with Ranger boss Glen Sather over the weekend. No telling if he'll take the Vancouver money, or sign with the Blueshirts, the Blackhawks, or maybe the Habs. Agent J.P. Barry let it be known late in the week that Sundin will make a decision by Tuesday or Wednesday, with an eye on joining a team just after the Christmas break. Meanwhile, one rumor late in the week had the Rangers moving a body or two to the Oilers, in the event that Sundin came to Broadway. Hard to imagine them being partners, given that the Rangers are running only about $1.7 million under the cap ($56.7 million) and the Oilers with only about $700K in breathing room

Hats off to this pair
Penguins forwards Petr Sykora and Pascal Dupuis each potted hat tricks Thursday in a 9-2 shellacking of the Islanders. Now present yourself with a Golden Spoked-B award if you remember that the last two Bruins to turn the trick in the same game were Andy Hebenton and Dean Prentice in an 11-0 pasting of the Maple Leafs, Jan. 18, 1964, at Toronto.

The league record for most hat tricks in one game is held by the Canadiens, who had four guys turn the trick in a 16-3 hammering of the Quebec Bulldogs in 1920.

Loose pucks
Ex-Bruin Bryan Berard recently hooked on with Russian squad Vityaz Chekhov, whose GM is another ex-Bruin, Alexei Zhamnov. Berard, 1-4 -5 and a minus-7 in his first six KHL games, is joined on the backline by Derrick Walser, a teammate from their days in Columbus . . . Former Bruins goalie John Grahame got himself tossed off Avangard Omsk, another KHL club, reportedly for disorderly conduct at an Omsk nightclub. Grahame, his shot at the No. 1 job in Boston short-lived, was 9-10-2 with a 2.86 goals-against average and a .896 save percentage. Not the kind of numbers to take out on the town . . . No doubt Barry Melrose is steamed for his quick dismissal from behind the Lightning bench. But not wise for him to tarnish the image of rookie Steven Stamkos. "Steven is not ready for the NHL," Melrose recently told Fan 590 radio in Toronto. Not surprisingly, the Bolts quickly scurried to find out if they can delete Melrose from the payroll (for some $2.5 million he is due through 2010-11) for making those remarks. Melrose desperately needs to contact Dave Lewis on the art of shuttling silently to the bank each week.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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