How Maple Leafs staff helped save rec-league player from skateboarding cut throat: ‘I thought I was going to die’

It was in the Toronto Maple Leafs locker room that Ike Werner first allowed himself to believe he would survive.

After accidentally cutting his throat with a skate blade during a Sunday afternoon recreational league game at the NHL team’s training facility earlier this month, a terrifying experience turned surreal when the 37-year-old turned and saw Maple Leafs forward Nick Robertson receive treatment. in an adjacent room.

“That was my vision,” Werner said Atletico. “She Si is working on him.”

Werner had noticed the luxury cars behind the fenced-off section of the parking lot when he entered the Ford Performance Center that afternoon. The Zamboni was also re-emerging onto the ice earlier than usual, so he guessed that the Leafs had skated on rink 2 before their “Prestige Worldwide” team faced the “Jagrbombs” in the True North Hockey League.

This fact became much more significant to him when, in the third shift of the game, he suffered a severe cut and was seeking help, only to find himself under the care of Leafs athletic therapists Paul Ayotte and Neill Davidson.

“They were so good,” Werner said. “They were so calm and that helped ground me, if you will, because I was spiraling.”

It’s not a place any rec-league player could reasonably imagine being in, even after the October death of former NHLer Adam Johnson while playing professionally in England.

That tragedy highlighted the need for more cut-resistant equipment in the sport and saw players of all levels start wearing it. Werner recalled the topic discussed in the autumn in his men’s championship team and said that at that time he had also tried, unsuccessfully, to buy a neck protector.

As one of the older players in a reasonably competitive league, he was more cautious than most when putting on his gear by wearing wrist guards, cut-resistant socks and, after previously wearing a visor (pictured above), recently moved to a full visor.

“When Adam Johnson died, you couldn’t buy neck guards,” Werner said. “I tried. Now, that was a couple of months ago, and I probably could have continued but I didn’t.

“One of the things I said to my wife was, ‘It’s rec league. It’s not that fast. The equipment is not at that level. The skates are not that sharp. It’s not going to happen in the recreational league.”

Except when he did.


Werner doesn’t remember what happened. None of his teammates were sure even immediately afterwards.

In fact, it wasn’t until Werner’s league convention sent out a clip taken by a 360-degree camera installed in the arena Tuesday night that anyone got a clear picture of what happened.

The sight seemed as harmless as it came. Standing in the gap in front of his own goal, Werner hit a loose puck as an opponent approached and ended up knocking him off balance. When the opponent fell to the ice, his right skate rose and caught Werner under the mask.

Incredibly, the force of the impact did not knock Werner to the ground, although it left him with significant bruises on his upper chest and neck area that remained a week after the Feb. 4 crash. He also opened a cut that required 12 stitches to close.

The video clip confirmed the only aspect of the sequence that Werner clearly remembered: he picked up the fallen stick after the impact and skated under his own power to the bench.

What also stood out in his memory was how little pain he felt immediately after the show and how little blood there seemed to be. He says it looked like a small abrasion or burn on the shirt. Only when he returned to the bench a referee told him that he had to leave the playing surface immediately.

Longtime teammate Jack McVeigh accompanied Werner to the locker room after getting a brief look at what his friend was dealing with.

“It was pretty shocking that he was alive once we saw the injury,” McVeigh said. “He took his hand off his neck and you said, ‘Oooooh. My goodness…’

“I don’t even know what went through my head other than, ‘You need to take care of this.’”

Werner didn’t lose his composure until he glimpsed the gash in a mirror once he returned to the dressing room. According to McVeigh, he immediately turned white.

There was a brief discussion about calling an ambulance and getting to the arena lobby until Werner remembered the Leafs were in the building. He caught the attention of Armando Cavalheiro, who works as a cameraman for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and was nearby after training. Cavalheiro began banging on the back door of the dressing room until it was opened and Werner was let in.

He was immediately treated by Davidson and Ayotte, the Leafs’ medical staff, who applied pressure to the neck area and examined the wound. They eventually closed him up with Steri Strips and bandaged Werner after determining that he needed to go to the hospital for further tests before the stitches were applied.

Just as importantly, they reassured me that everything would be fine.

“They were so good,” Werner said. “By asking myself a few questions: ‘Can you breathe well?’ “You can swallow, okay?” Like this kind of thing to rule out anything serious and serious.

“They say ‘You’re lucky to be alive.’”

Under normal circumstances, they might not have been there to help someone injured during a 4pm recreational league game.

The Leafs usually practiced at noon but didn’t skate that day until 2:45 p.m., because the team was returning from the All-Star break and league rules dictated that no mandatory activities be scheduled before mid-afternoon.

The father of a 3-month-old baby, Werner went alone to St. Joseph’s Hospital with only a brief text sent to his wife that he had been cut and would be OK. He was immediately admitted to a hospital bed and received his stitches by 5.15pm, just an hour after coming off the ice.

Because the skate that grazed him was so sharp, the cut was clean and easily sutured. Local anesthesia was applied and Werner began bleeding heavily as doctors examined how deep the wound was. He had to throw away the shirt he was wearing in favor of one that McVeigh had left for him at the hospital.

However, it was a scene that brought good news. A CT scan showed that the skate had cut the muscle but not gone through it, making surgery unnecessary.

One of the emergency room doctors told Werner that he plays high-level hockey recreationally and vowed not to return to the ice without first getting a neck brace.

“I was missing my vocal cords, my esophagus, my arteries, my veins, everything,” Werner said. “I’m just lucky. “I’m just lucky.”

He didn’t even spend the night in hospital.


Ike Werner has switched to a full visor since this photo was taken. However he couldn’t find a neck protector.

Werner’s brush with death brought him into contact with five different highly trained medical professionals between the time he was cut from the skate and when he finally returned home greeted by a long hug from his wife.

Each of them told him he was lucky to walk out that door.

This led him to reflect on all the hypotheses of a day that will almost certainly accompany him for the rest of his life.

For starters, the weather had been unseasonably nice that Sunday, and while out on a walk with his newborn, he considered skipping the hockey game altogether. What if she chose to stay home?

What if his team was short of a defender for that match and he instead played in his normal role as a forward?

What if he had gotten up and tried to resume the game instead of skating to the bench after being cut? Would his body be able to withstand the continuous strain?

What if the cut was just a little deeper or angled an inch or two in another direction?

What if the Leafs had been operating on their normal schedule that afternoon and the medical staff hadn’t yet been in the building to respond to his call for help?

“I thought I was going to die and they said, ‘You’re not going to die. You are very lucky.’ And they sewed me up,” Werner said. “I give them credit for just making sure I was OK. I wasn’t bleeding much at that point, but if I had taken myself to the hospital, who knows what would have happened?

“There was a lot of blood at the end.”

He doesn’t consider himself a religious or spiritual person, but he definitely has family and friends who believe a greater power was looking out for him that day.

It was not easy to calm the mind long enough to get a restful sleep immediately after a situation in which Werner himself notes: “I almost orphaned my son and my wife would have been widowed.”

The last place he expected to be when he showed up for a Sunday league game was the Maple Leafs’ locker room.

He’s lucky to have done it.

“I’m not a Leafs fan — I’m a Calgary fan — but I was just joking, ‘I might be a Leafs fan now,’” Werner said. “Not from a team perspective, but from a behind-the-scenes perspective.”

(Photo courtesy of Ike Werner)