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Former NHL goalie Malarchuk reflects on near-fatal throat slash in new book

Buffalo Sabres goalie Clint Malarchuk clutches his throat after suffering a lacerated neck in this March 22, 1989 photo in Buffalo, N.Y.

Harry Scull Jr./The Canadian Press

The scar on the right side of Clint Malarchuk's neck is still visible. It's there for everyone to see on the cover of his new book.

Hockey fans will always remember Malarchuk as the NHL goaltender who nearly died in 1989 after a skate blade sliced his jugular vein. He knows that.

"It's my claim to fame," Malarchuk said. "There's a lot of goalies in my kind of category that weren't the elite, but I'm remembered, even if it's for the infamous accident."

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But in The Crazy Game: How I Survived the Crease and Beyond, Malarchuk opens up about the post-traumatic stress disorder that infamous accident caused, his obsessive compulsive disorder, alcoholism and anxiety and a couple of other near-death experiences that he was fortunate to survive. He details battles in his head that made the chaos of hockey feel like a sanctuary.

The opening chapter of The Crazy Game, which was released Tuesday, ends with Malarchuk putting a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger. Miraculously, he survived.

"When I woke up in intensive care with a bullet in my head, I felt like I was saved or there was a purpose for me," Malarchuk said in an interview Monday. "Maybe it'll help people and maybe somebody won't feel like they're the only one going through a dark time or depression, anxiety, whatever it might be."

Leading up to that point, though, was the toughest part for Malarchuk to relive as he told his story with the help of Dan Robson, a senior writer at Sportsnet Magazine.

"Going through that time I did feel like I was out of control and crazy," Malarchuk said. "I felt like my brain was on fire and I just couldn't put it out."

Through the early portions of the book, Malarchuk opens a window into his childhood in Edmonton and Grande Prairie, Alta., with an alcoholic father, a mother who was one of his best teammates in life and a brother who taught him a lot – and broke his nose a few times. Fights, arrests and a hospitalization at 12 for anxiety start to paint the picture of the "demons" Malarchuk has dealt with from an early age.

Chapters about junior and minor hockey and his start in the NHL with the Nordiques include more about his OCD. Malarchuk would run up to 20 miles a day and kept up his workout routine because he felt it was the only way to be the best.

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"I think my superior conditioning made up for the fact that other goalies had more skill," he wrote. "I basically willed myself into becoming an NHL goalie."

Along with alcohol and anxiety, it caused personal problems along the way, including marriages that did not last. Then came that infamous incident on March 22, 1989.

Malarchuk describes in graphic detail getting sliced in the throat by St. Louis Blues rookie Steve Tuttle and the fear he had in his own head in the seconds and minutes afterward.

"I'm going to die," he thought.

He survived and was back in the Buffalo Sabres net 10 days later.

To this day, he is still recognized because of that near-death experience. It doesn't bother him because he's proud of the perseverance and courage it took to get back on the ice so soon afterward.

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"I accept my career for what it was," he said. "It wasn't the greatest, I wasn't Martin Brodeur. But I had a decent career. But a lot of players had lesser careers and a lot have had better. It happened for a reason."

He cheated death twice more – once when he collapsed after drinking and swallowing pills and then later when he shot himself.

The book tells the bigger story of a goaltender who played 338 career games for the Nordiques, Sabres and Washington Capitals.

There are plenty of hockey anecdotes, such as riding horses on a California golf course with Dale Hunter and getting in trouble with the Capitals for taking part in a rodeo exhibition at the Calgary Stampede.

But even after writing the book about his mental struggles, the 53-year-old doesn't think there are things he could have done differently.

"I was in such a dark place I didn't know what I was thinking, how I was thinking," Malarchuk said. "I felt like I was crazy. That helpless and hopelessness is not a good place. For me I'm grateful that I've been able to, I don't want to say conquer this because I still struggle at times, but manage it."

The book includes its fair share of profanity, language Malarchuk and Robson decided to include because it's more prevalent in times he was out of control.

"There's a time that that language was there, it was strong and that was more of when I was in turmoil," he said. "I wanted to work up or into that time so when I did use that language it was the real language at that time."

By going into such detail about his own bouts with mental illness, Malarchuk is hoping to reach others who may be dealing with similar issues or have loved ones who are. Part of his wife Joanie's journal from a particularly dark period is published, Malarchuk said, because it tells a different side of the story.

"She was able to get the support and help as well," he said. "There's probably more people who will read the book that aren't affected with mental illness but are on the other side where they know somebody or a loved one and they don't know how to cope or deal or what to do and they feel trapped."

While promoting the book, Malarchuk knows he has to stay on top of his regimen of keeping his emotions in check because this is a stressful time in his life. He still has his battles, admitting that tragedies such as the overdose of former NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard and the suicides of former Vancouver Canucks forward Rick Rypien and junior player Terry Trafford hit him "on an emotional level."

"I know just how you feel or felt," he said. "It brings back some of that pain where I was in my life and at those dark times. I feel their helplessness, if that makes sense. They feel helpless and hopeless and I feel the same way again."

He says the book has helped him become more self-aware.

"I wanted to impress upon people that I am alive and it's for a reason and it's to be honest and disclose my demons so that other people can maybe be helped by it," he said. "All the stuff that I have gone through, if I don't somehow relay it to people, I've gone through it for nothing."

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