BOSTON — The Montreal Canadiens may have been thousands of miles away from Anaheim when St. Louis Blues defenceman Jay Bouwmeester collapsed on the bench in Tuesday’s game between his team and the Anaheim Ducks, but the situation affected them just the same as it would if they were in the rink.
This is every player’s nightmare. This is every NHL family’s nightmare. So you can imagine the Canadiens were just as relieved as anybody to hear that Bouwmeester is reportedly doing alright after being rushed to the hospital in response to his cardiac episode, which led to the postponement of the Blues-Ducks game.
“To see that happen last night was really scary, to be honest,” said Paul Byron, who played a few games alongside Bouwmeester when the two were members of the Calgary Flames in 2013. “To be honest, I don’t know him all that well. I was just a young guy getting called up. The lockout year was the year I believe he got traded to St. Louis. I was only around him maybe one or two games that year and he’s a quieter guy and I’m a quiet guy. I didn’t really get to know him too much, but being around him, he was a really good teammate, worked extremely hard in the gym, took care of himself really well. There’s a reason he had that ironman streak for really long.”
Bouwmeester’s also a player who’s always carried a reputation of being among the best-conditioned athletes in the NHL.
He’s a veteran of 1,241 NHL games, a Stanley Cup winner, an Olympic gold medallist and a world champion. What happened to him is a reminder that anything can happen to anybody at any time.
“It’s concerning,” said Canadiens coach Claude Julien. “I’ve known Jay since he was 16 years old, when he played for me for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship. But I also know him from the (2014) Olympics and the World Cup in Toronto in 2016. He’s a good person. He’s a person that’s also very quiet, a person who keeps to himself. These things, we’ve seen them with (Rich) Peverley, we’ve seen it with Jiri Fischer — these are athletes in excellent shape and it guarantees absolutely nothing. Things like this happen and what I like about these unfortunate situations is that at least there’s people around who are ready to jump into action. Those people deserve a lot of credit.”
Canadiens forward Nate Thompson lauded the Ducks’ medical staff in addition to the Blues’ trainers and he said that their colleagues around the league are among the unsung heroes of the sport.
“They’re just as important as the players,” said Thompson, who’s been playing against Bouwmeester since he was a member of the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds and Bouwmeester was on the Medicine Hat Tigers. “Those people don’t get enough credit. They practise these scenarios all the time, they have their own protocols, and I know in every building, with every team, they all have modes of communication.”
Byron said it’s a comfort knowing that the Canadiens have built close relationships with all members of the team’s medical staff and that a loved one can reach them at any point if need be.
“Not being able to be there would be a terrible feeling,” Byron said.
It had to be particularly helpless feeling for Bouwmeester’s wife and his three daughters, who weren’t in attendance.
And it had to be frightening for Bouwmeester’s father, Dan, who did accompany the team to Anaheim with the rest of the Blues’ fathers.
“You know that’s tough, but it’s almost a blessing at the same time that his dad was there with him,” said Thompson.
Blues GM Doug Armstrong’s update in the early hours of Wednesday morning that Bouwmeester is in stable condition and that he was “alert and moving all of his extremities as he was transported to UC Irvine Medical Center.”
That was a comfort to the Canadiens, especially defenceman Brett Kulak, who grew up admiring his fellow Edmonton native.
“He’s always been a player I’ve looked up to and tried to model my game after,” said the 26-year-old Kulak. “Don’t think I could be quite the calibre he’s been his whole career, but similar playing style. He’s always been a really good skater and that’s kind of my strength.
“What happened last night is a reminder you can’t take for granted your health every day. It’s a blessing we’re able to play hockey and do something we love.”