His friends around the league say that he could hardly walk, with a shattered heel and collapsed ankle that was twice its normal size and unable to support his weight.
It was painful. It was ugly.
And it had happened on exactly the type of play that has pushed the NHL to finally begin testing the use of a hybrid icing rule this preseason.
Back on April 2, Carolina Hurricanes defenceman Joni Pitkanen crashed into the boards , feet first, after getting tripped up while chasing a loose puck for a potential icing call in a game.
Pitkanen’s calcaneus was broken in more than a half dozen places, and he spent the off-season unsuccessfully attempting to recover from what is often one of the most devastating injuries for a hockey player.
( A very similar incident ended the career of one of the Washington Capitals top prospects, Pat Peake, back in the mid-1990s. At the time, doctors were quoted in the media saying they had seen injuries of similar severity only in construction workers who had fallen from high rises.)
On Wednesday, the Hurricanes revealed Pitkanen would miss the entire 2013-14 season, but what wasn’t said was that his NHL career could very well be over, at just 29 years old.
Pitkanen has endured an extremely painful five months dealing with the injury, and with a young family, his main concern now is understandably regaining his health, not returning to hockey.
“We didn’t really hear how serious it was until three weeks ago,” Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said to USA Today . “At that time, Joni was still hoping he was going to be able to put more pressure on it and continue to get better. But it didn’t.”
Not a high profile star, Pitkanen has nonetheless been a key player for all of his three NHL teams, logging roughly 24 minutes a night as a dependable No. 2 or 3 blueliner since his second season.
His 0.55 points per game since 2005-06 put him 18th among all NHL defencemen in that span, totals that include three 40-point seasons.
The injury also further weakens a Finnish Olympic team that already lost Toni Lydman to retirement, leaving only Kimmo Timonen and Sami Salo as experienced NHL blueliners on a national team that’s beginning to get quite old.
More importantly, Pitkanen’s absence from an NHL training camp for the first time since 2002 should serve as a reminder of why referees’ whistles are blowing early on icing plays throughout the exhibition schedule.
Hopefully he’s the last player who has to go through such a gruesome experience because of a simple race for the puck.