Because it was a late-night game at Anaheim, 9 p.m. St. Louis time, it’s a challenge for Blues fans to stay up and make it through three periods, and maybe an overtime. That includes this guy, your typist, who is blasted out of sleep by alarm noise at 3:30 in the morning.
Through the half-asleep, half-awake haze, with the TV still on, and the audio volume lowered as we listened to John Kelly and Darren Pang broadcasting the Blues-Ducks game on Fox Sports Midwest, we could detect the sound of confusion, then commotion, then concern … and moments later, when the scene on the Blues bench came into focus, there was straight-up freaking out, and fright, and a mind-and-body shock to the system.
It was a sudden jolt that shook us out of drowsiness. This was a spillover from a nonsensical dream, with the usual muddle of a “is this for real?”response during a limited state of consciousness.
Was this real?
Yes, and it was harrowing.
A Blues player had collapsed near the team bench. We could see several teammates frantically calling for help … team doctors, trainers, anyone … please hurry.
Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf went over to the Blues, and teamed with Blues defenseman Colton Parayko to grab a section of the bench and rip it from its moorings to make room for emergency responders. They tossed the piece to the side — flinging it like a chunk of firewood — near the spot where Pang stood at his usual position between the team benches.
Pang described that scene for us on Wednesday morning, during his weekly visit to the Bernie Show on 101ESPN. How surreal, this urgency — and desperate strength — displayed by Getlaf and Parayko. Rival players, yes, but part of the NHL family. At this moment they were brothers.
Going by the look on the faces of Blues’ players, especially defenseman Vince Dunn, the situation looked terrifyingly serious.
Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester was down.
Beloved. Deeply respected. Highly skilled. Dignified. Classy. A touchstone dispensing quiet wisdom and advice for younger teammates. A complete professional. A Stanley Cup champion. An Olympic champion. A future Hockey Hall of Famer. A son, a brother, a husband and a father.
All of that … and so much more.
But he was down. In distress.
Down on the ground, surrounded by the skate blades of distraught teammates.
The Blues were thunderstruck.
To use the NHL parlance, this was no “upper-body injury.” This was … dire. The Blues have had so many tragedies through the years, including the too-early deaths of Bob Gassoff, Doug Wickenheiser, Barclay Plager, Doug Wickenheiser, Pavol Demita and the iconic broadcaster Dan Kelly.
This can’t be happening … not again.
This update was calming: “Jay has been taken off and did acknowledge with his eyes open,” Pang told the audience watching back home on FSN Midwest.
Ducks fans behind the bench cheered for Bouwmeester as he sat up, just before the stretcher wheeled him away. The Honda Center organist offered a good-grace touch by playing “When the Blues Go Marching In,” as a tribute to the defensemen and his team,
As we learned later, when the Blues issued a statement at 11:30 p.m. STL time, Bouwmeester had suffered a “cardiac episode” but was at the hospital, receiving care, and stabilized.
And other than the doctors and the nurses at the nearby Cal-Irvine Medical Center, there was nothing that anyone could do … except pray, and maybe beg, and humbly ask that the heavens watch over this wonderful person and ease the strain on his wife Devon, his father Dan, his mother Gena, and his older sister Jill.
Please keep his heart beating.
Please keep the hearts of his loved ones filled with hope.
Before Bouwmeester was taken out of the arena for a short drive to the hospital — before we knew that he was safe — medics had used a cardiac defibrillator on Bouwmeester.
Just hearing that late-night news from Blues radio voice Chris Kerber was enough to make your body tremble. Paddles? This wasn’t just a nerve-wracking situation. This seemed a lot closer — way too close — to being a life-or-death situation.
After the initial crazy-sickly-nervous minutes had passed, we knew that Bouwmeester — age 36 years, and 137 days — would be OK, at least from a medical-emergency standpoint.
We were relieved and grateful when word got out — from Pang, then later reaffirmed by Panger — that Blues players were in communication with Bouwmeester, using technology to face-time their buddy as he recovered in his hospital bed, with his father Dan at his side.
“The entire team had a chance to face time Jay, and all was good,” Pang told us on Wednesday morning. Jay was responsive and in good spirits. It made everyone feel a lot better.”
We were comforted again on Wednesday morning, when Pang shared a quick story: he had texted Bouwmeester later on Tuesday night. Probably didn’t expect to hear back from Bouwmeester anytime soon.
From his hospital bed, “Bow” texted back.
“I got a response right away,” Pang said. “And that made me feel real good.”
Bouwmeester is already rallying.
That’s a short time — but a long way — from the sudden drama that played out on Tuesday night at Honda Center.
The game was halted with 7:50 remaining in the first period, when Bouwmeester headed to the bench after completing his sixth shift of the night. After Bouwmeester’s scary sequence — which rocked players and staff from both teams — the competition was postponed. No game. Ducks GM Bob Murray made that clear in a conversation with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
I must say… of all the professional hockey players on the continent, Bouwmeester would be the last guy I’d think of if I heard about a player sinking into a traumatic blackout — for no visually obvious reason — after leaving the ice following routine shift.
Not the man who entered the NHL in 2002, making his debut for Florida at age 19.
Not the man who has played with distinction and durability through 17 NHL seasons.
Not the man who has played 1,241 regular-season and 75 postseason NHL games … that adds up to 1,316 in all.
Not the man who has clocked 31,117 on-ice minutes through grinding regular seasons and pressure-packed playoffs as one of the better defensemen in the NHL.
Not the man who is avid and disciplined about fitness and conditioning. Hiking through mountains in the summer. Muscling his legs to propel a mountain bike through winding roads, and over crevices, on lengthy, grueling journeys high above sea level.
Not the man who shows up two hours early, before the start of a scheduled practice or the morning skate, just to maintain his rigorous workout regimine.
Not the guy who has one of the longest “Ironman” streaks in NHL history with 737 consecutive regular season games — and that run lasted 743 games if you count the playoffs. Bow the marathon man didn’t miss an NHL game from March 6, 2004 through Nov. 22, 2014.
Not the guy who made a remarkable comeback during the 2018-2019 season. He’d returned, probably too soon, after having offseason hip surgery. Bouwmeester was giving his all, but moving slowly on the ice.
Frankly, Bouwmeester looked broken, as he neared the finish line for his excellent NHL career.
Until he wasn’t.
Bouwmeester got healthy, and regained his flexibility and mobility, and reemerged as one of the Blues’ best players during their rise from the bottom of the NHL standings to the Game 7 triumph in Boston that secured the agonizingly coveted Stanley Cup.
Bouwmeester symbolized the Blues’ 2018-2019 season. Trying to rebound from the surgery, he was in rough shape physically and faced tough odds. The Blues were in rough shape in the standings and faced tough odds.
Bouwmester revived his career. The Blues revived their season. Bouwmeester, and his team, reached their strongest form late in the season, and did their heaviest lifting during the postseason.
In the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs, Bouwmeester played in all 26 games and logged 611 minutes, averaging 24 minutes per game. He had seven assists and was plus 9. And on the final night in Boston, on June 12, and at age 35 — Bouwmeester played 28 minutes and 34 seconds of a 60-minute Game 7 in the Blues’ 4-1 primal scream of a victory.
With the Blues having to win the third road game of the series, Bouwmeester helped get them started by assisting on center Ryan O’Reilly’s huge goal that gave the Blues a valuable 1-0 lead.
No wonder that Alex Pietrangelo — after taking the traditional first on-ice twirl with the Stanley Cup in his role of captain — immediately handed the Cup to Bouwmeester.
The kid that entered the league at 19 had finally won the Cup and an extensive and frustrating pursuit — and as an “old man” of 35. The achievement can be added to Bouwmeester’s collection of gold medals earned in the Olympics, World Championships, and Canada Cup — five in all — as a proud member of Team Canada.
“It’s crazy,” Bouwmeester said after Game 7. “You go through times where you have ups and downs in your career, you always see lots of guys in here, guys that end up winning and you know it’s so hard. To finally do it, I don’t know. I’m kind of dumbfounded.”
Well, let’s get ready for another comeback.
At least we can hope for that, right?
No rush of course. Bouwmeester’s return to health is the only immediate goal, and the only real priority.
For now, let’s be thankful for the tender mercies, the blessings, that eased the extreme fear and angst that filled a hockey arena in Southern California — a wave of fear and angst that could be felt all the way to St. Louis.
Thankfully, Bouwmester went down at the bench and not on the ice. He didn’t fall on the hard ice, and put himself at greater risk with a head injury. And with Bouwmeester in the bench area, medical help could arrive quickly and without restriction.
Thankfully, this coronary episode happened at Bouwmeester’s workplace instead of a hotel room on the road, or on his bike while navigating a mountain range. Unlike the late Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile — who died of a heart failure in his Chicago hotel room in June 2002 — Bow wasn’t alone. He could receive immediate care.
Thankfully, the doctors and trainers and first responders were fast and brilliant and handled the emergency with skill and calm confidence.
Thankfully the medical center was less than two miles from the arena. It was crucial to Bouwmeester there ASAP.
Thankfully, his father was on site, as part of the Blues’ annual “Dads Trip” excursion. Dan Bouwmeester was in the ambulance, accompanying his son Jay on the ride to the medical center. And Dan Bouwmeester was there in the hospital room, with Jay, keeping vigil through the night.
And most of all: Give thanks that Jay Bouwmeester made it through this treacherous night, and will be with his team, and his family, for many happier nights to come.
Thanks for reading …