Monday night’s terrifying collapse of Rich Peverley was a vivid reminder of the humanity that breathes behind the veil of competitive professional sports. We, as fans and as media, build up players, tear down players, poke fun at players and pick our own favorite players. But when we do this, we look at them and think of them as NHLers, who achieved something out of reach and out of touch for the rest of us who dreamt about becoming one of them.
In the past week, we have heard of four heart-related incidents in the hockey world: two that involved Peverley, one that involved a 79-year-old rec league player, and the worst of which involved a 17-year-old captain of a Michigan high school hockey team.
Last week, on the same day his Grandville High School team was to meet Detroit Catholic Central in a MHSAA Division 1 semifinal game, Ryan Fischer died in his sleep from an enlarged heart – hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Fischer, who would have turned 18 next month, was to begin attending West Point in July and by all accounts was an upstanding gentleman, teammate and captain.
Fischer’s parents and his school decided to play the game as scheduled. His heavy-hearted teammates came up short in the semifinal, but the scene at the end of the game between the two teams was beautiful and caring and represented the tight-knit community the hockey world is.
Peverley’s collapse shocked and scared every corner of the hockey community because we’ve all seen and heard about moments like these far too often.
We recall Jiri Fischer’s scare on the Red Wings bench. We look back at David Carle, who had to retire after a serious and potentially deadly heart condition was discovered at the NHL draft combine. And we remember Alexei Cherepanov, who had an eerily similar collapse to Peverley during a Kontinental League game, only Cherepanov wasn’t as lucky as the Stars forward and did not survive.
The scariest thing about these occurrences is that they can seemingly happen to anyone at anytime.
Carle didn’t know about his condition until he went through testing at the combine. Cherepanov was a 19-year-old fit, athletic, highly regarded Rangers prospect. Ryan Fischer was a young and promising high school student. Jiri Fischer and Rich Peverley were peak-form athletes and though Peverley had recent history with his heart condition, it was believed to be under control, or else he wouldn’t have been playing in the first place. Last week, a 79-year-old rec league player collapsed mid-game and survived, thanks to the quick response of players on both benches and a defibrillator nearby.
The circumstances and backgrounds of each of these players is different, but they all were involved in similar terrifying situations.
In Peverley’s case, we can be thankful for the quick response of the Dallas Stars medical team who acted as heroes. In the rec league player’s case, we can be thankful the arena was equipped and ready for such an incident. The hockey community has learned much from these incidents and adapted – even still, there’s no stopping the unforeseen.
Whether it’s an NHLer in his prime, a senior rec-leaguer, a young promising professional prospect or a high school hockey captain, these brutal and sometimes tragic moments happen without notice and remind us of the fragile humanity behind the highly competitive and aggressive sport of hockey.
Editor's note: Ryan Fischer passed away the same day as his team's game, not days before as initially stated. This error has been corrected.