Thoughts On Rich Peverley's Collapse


It would have been too easy to romanticize the irony: hockey player dies of a heart condition. All hockey players have a heart condition. They have too much of it.

But in the moments during and following Dallas Stars center Rich Peverley's collapse Monday night, he ceased to be a hockey player. He became a son, a friend, a husband, a father, a fallen teammate. The result against the Columbus Blue Jackets no longer mattered. His opponents, most notably his former teammate in Boston Nathan Horton, moved cautiously towards the Stars bench to offer whatever support they could.

Emergency medical personnel rushed Peverley down the tunnel. Doctors posing as fans joined them, still garbed in Stars sweaters. The 18,000 voices in the arena went silent. The loquacious Daryl Reaugh spoke in hushed tones on the Fox Sports broadcast.

For several minutes, the hockey world held its breath. News stories made the rounds explaining Peverley's existing heart condition that was traced back to last summer. He's gone through treatments for an irregular heartbeat as recently as last week.

With the help of doctors and the aid of a defibrillator, Peverley survived Monday night.

One is reminded of St. Louis Cardinals former ace Dizzy Dean, who was knocked unconscious attempting to break up a double day in the 1934 World Series. The Detroit shortstop's throw struck him square in the forehead on its path to first base. When Dean came to, he asked to anyone in particular, "Did they get Pepper?" in reference to Pepper Martin, the batter who landed safely on first base.

Peverley responded similarly. He reportedly wanted back in the game. He wanted to know how much time was left in the period. In other words, how much time did he miss?

It's a heartwarming finish, at least for now,  to a nearly tragic story. Hockey players never disappoint when it comes to playing through injury. And that narrative, for lack of a better word, was fulfilled once again. These guys are warriors. These guys are tough beyond belief.

But I didn't think of just Peverley when I heard that he had survived. I thought of the doctors who had surrounded him and how quickly they had reacted. Peverley's career might be postponed, but his life continues, all because the medical staff had prepared for such a rare, immediate event.

I thought of how lucky Peverley is. Not to suffer a "cardiac event" as doctors called it, but to suffer it on the Stars bench. Had Peverley collapsed at the team's practice facility, or alone in his home, he would likely be dead.

I now think of Jiri Fischer, who went through a similar ordeal with the Detroit Red Wings eight years ago. I think of Fabrice Muamba, the Bolton Wanderers' midfielder who survived a heart attack on the pitch in 2012.

But most importantly, I think of Reggie Lewis. I think of Hank Gathers. I think of Alexei Cherepanov, the New York Rangers prospect who died during a game in 2008 at the age of 19. I think of the dozens of anonymous high school and college athletes whose hearts failed them at a young age. I think of how they died playing the sports they loved.

And then, I think of how many lives they've saved as a result — lives like Rich Peverley's.

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