CALGARY — Asked if the biggest blessing of his latest close call was that what’s left of his variety pack of teeth is still intact, Chris Tanev flashed his famous chiclet.
“I don’t mind if the snaggletooth gets gone,” said the Calgary Flames’ ultimate warrior, two days after blocking a shot with his face that left a trail of blood so thick it required scraping by the ice crew.
“I wouldn’t mind that at all.”
Dillon Dube has a theory on why.
“You should see him trying to eat an apple,” said Dube of his gap-toothed teammate. “It might help if he loses it.”
Chuckles all around at the Flames’ first practice since gutting out a 2-1 overtime win over Vegas.
It was a game Tanev finished while listening to the radio, as the medical staff used 12 stitches to close a gash many worried would be much worse.
“I’m very fortunate on this one — we were quite worried when it happened,” said the 33-year-old defenceman who said “too many” when asked what his lifetime stitch count was.
“The medical staff did a great job of lining up everything I needed to do (Tuesday) to make sure my jaw wasn’t broken and all that stuff.
“Thankfully, everything came back positive and we move forward.”
Not surprisingly, he returned to the ice without a visor.
“I think there’s something in his brain that’s not connected properly that he doesn’t feel pain, because I don’t think too many guys would even be on the ice, let alone without a shield,” said Dube of his esteemed alternate captain.
“He’s a warrior.
“He shows up today, smiling, laughing … just another day for him.”
For those who didn’t have to sit through the sickening scene that unfolded with eight minutes left in a 1-1 tie against Vegas, this face dent didn’t stem from an unfortunate deflection.
This was an intentional, instinctual reaction from one of the most selfless, dedicated players ever to don the flaming C.
As William Karlsson sprung free with the puck in the high slot, Tanev dove face-first to his right to absorb the shot.
As the crowd gasped, he lay face down for a few seconds before quickly getting up and skating off with a significant amount of blood pouring from his face.
“Probably not the smartest play to do that, but it was the only way I was going to get in front of the puck because it was coming across from that way,” he explained.
“It’s a bang-bang play and you’re doing whatever it takes to not get scored on.
“It’s either he’s going to have an open look or I’m going to try to block the shot.
“There’s not enough time to think. … It happens quick and you get hit in the face once in a while.
“Thankfully, I just got cut and nothing else, to be honest.”
Watching from home while curled up in the fetal position due to the flu, Jacob Markstrom said the sequence hurt his stomach even more.
“I’ve seen it for over a decade, how selfless he is, and every time that stuff happens, I ask him what he’s doing and he says, ‘Ya, I didn’t plan that well,’” said the Flames netminder, who pays tribute to his long-time teammate with a mask depicting Tanev’s barren dental landscape.
“That was scary.
“I haven’t met a tougher human being than him in my lifetime.
“He’s the ultimate teammate and sacrifices his body.
“Whatever it takes, and it gives the team energy.”
It shows tremendous leadership too, prompting players around the room to think about their level of sacrifice.
“The way he plays the game, he’s got a total disregard for his own body, for the betterment of his team,” said coach Ryan Huska, who also saw Tanev leave briefly in the first period for some repairs.
And if you had everybody in your group who had a little bit of what he’s got, oof.
“He’s that important of a person in our locker room,” Huska continued.
“You never want to see a guy try to block a shot with his face, but that’s Chris.
“He’s got tons of respect in the room because of how he plays the game.”
While Tanev is known league-wide for his fearlessness, he said it was only about 10 years ago he started blocking shots to the extent he does.
“I feel like I didn’t really block shots until Torts (John Tortorella) became my coach, and then everyone on the team had to do that,” he said, shrugging.
“It snowballs from there.”