I was at American Airlines Center tonight as forward Rich Peverley collapsed on the Stars' bench and the game was subsequently postponed. The following is my rapid reaction to the events that transpired:
The play had just entered the Columbus zone when I heard sticks slamming against the boards.
My first thought? Too many men on the ice. The guys always do that to get the attention of the officials on a bad change. The Stars had the puck so I started counting white sweaters. Two ... three ... but before I could get to five the sound had taken on urgency. The banging wasn't just insistent now. It was frantic. I looked over to the benches and saw players from both sides pouring over the boards. A brawl? I heard someone near me say, "There's an injury." I looked around. There was no one down on the ice.
Six seconds had passed. Maybe eight. Some of the Stars continued to press the attack toward the Columbus net, but as the crowd grew around the benches others splintered away from the play.
The banging continued and then something remarkable happened. Dallas winger Antoine Roussel, apparently coming from off the bench, sprinted across the width of the ice to an official and began berating him. It was an utterly incomprehensible moment. What was he doing, yapping at the ref with play going on?
Finally a whistle blew. Then, chaos.
It was only at that moment that it became clear that something had happened on the Dallas bench. Through the crowd of players I could see trainers kneeling, apparently attending to someone on the ground.
Pevs, I thought.
Almost at the same moment, someone around me said his name out loud. Someone else started checking off the players who were visible, trying to identify the victim by process of elimination.
It had to be him. Rich Peverley, an on-and-off member of Dallas' top line, had a history of heart problems. He'd missed a game just last week in Columbus with a recurrence of the issue. He wore a heart monitor for every game and practice, and had undergone a procedure in September to correct an irregular heartbeat. I still couldn't see who it was, but there was no sign of number 17 on the ice.
And then that awful, sickening thought entered my mind: "Am I watching someone die?"
There was a flurry of activity on the bench. I saw two trainers pick the player up by his legs and shoulders and carry him down the tunnel toward the Stars' room. He was limp. A dead weight. That was the moment the mood in the American Airlines Center changed from confusion to fear. How serious does it have to be for them to blow off a stretcher? The EMS team at the AAC waited in the visitors' tunnel, in the far corner to the right of the benches. From that spot to the bench area it has to be 150 feet through the hall. Those guys could have covered the distance at a run in maybe 30 seconds. The trainers decided on the spot that they didn't have that long.
That decision may have saved Peverley's life.
The black curtains in the Stars' tunnel closed behind them and all that was left was the crowd of stunned players. One appeared to be crying.
A few minutes later, the Blue Jackets filed off the ice. The league had called an early intermission. The Stars followed them out through the visitors' tunnel. They couldn't walk down their own. I'm guessing that Peverley was still being treated there.
I can't begin to imagine what that long walk to their room was like for those boys.
Play had stopped at 7:50 p.m. local time, six minutes and 23 seconds into the first period. At 8:23 p.m., the decision was made by the league to suspend the game. It was the right call. The only call. After a couple of vague messages that did nothing to calm the anxious crowd, public address announcer Jeff Kovarsky finally confirmed that Peverley was the player involved, that he'd been taken to hospital, and that he was conscious and doing well. The attending physician said later that after being revived, Peverley had asked how much time was left in the period and said he wanted to get back to the game.
Hockey players. Good lord.
The word we got before leaving the AAC was that Peverley had been treated for "a cardiac event" and taken to UT Southwestern St. Paul Hospital where he was in stable condition, resting comfortably with his wife at his side.
Finally, we all were able to exhale. For more updates on Rich Peverley's situation, give the Dallas Stars Twitter feed a follow. That's the best source for reliable information at this point.