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Czech team breathes sigh of relief after Demel scare

Wednesday, 02.22.2012 / 3:54 PM / Across the Pond

By Bill Meltzer - NHL.com Correspondent

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Czech team breathes sigh of relief after Demel scare
A common body check led to a chilling sight in a Czech league game, but fast work by a team doctor saved the life of Czech forward Tomas Demel.
It is the worst nightmare of anyone who has ever played or watched ice hockey: The sight of a player lying unconscious on the ice for a prolonged period of time. Concerned teammates, opponents and fans stand in stunned silence while medical personnel work carefully but quickly to attempt to save the player's life and transport him to the hospital.

That horrific scene unfolded last Friday in a Czech Extraliga game between home team BK Mlada Boleslav and visiting HC Vitkovice Steel. Shortly past the five-minute mark of the opening period, Vitkovice forward Petr Strapac hammered veteran Mlada Boleslav forward Tomas Demel heavily into the boards with a shoulder-to-shoulder hit.

Tomas Demel's only injury was a serious concussion; he continues to experience severe headaches and has been declared out for the season. (Photo: BKBoleslav.cz)
It was the type of hit that happens numerous times per game in matches all around the world. Usually the recipient of hit shakes it off and resumes his shift or skates to the bench. But on this occasion, the 5-foot-9 Demel was off-balance and took the impact of the larger Strapac's body check and crashed to the ice, immediately lapsing into unconsciousness. 

A hush fell over the crowd of 3,370 fans at Sko-Energo Arena, and players from both teams looked on as Demel lay motionless for some 15 minutes, while emergency personnel attempted to revive him.

Outstanding work by Mlada Boleslav team doctor Radek Langer saved the 33-year-old Demel's life.

"At first, I lifted up his tongue from the throat," Langer reported to iSport.cz. "After that I realized he had no pulse, so I struck him once in the chest. The pulse came back and Tomas started to breathe again immediately. … But he had remained unconscious for 15 minutes. In a case like that, you can't know (right away) if the patient suffered any spine injury or bleeding into the brain. Fortunately he recovered and started to move his arms and legs. He communicated but did not know where he was or what happened."

Demel was placed on a stretcher and taken to a waiting ambulance which rushed him to a nearby hospital. The game officials conferred with the coaches and captains of both teams, with Mlada Boleslav captain (and former Columbus Blue Jackets forward) David Vyborny requesting that the game be stopped or postponed until more was known about Demel's condition.

According to Vyborny, however, the officials informed him that they only had the power under league rules to call the game in the event of a player's death on the ice. Play resumed, and Mlada Boleslav went on to win the game 4-3, but no one on either side was in a frame of mind to celebrate victory or lament the loss.

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Fortunately, good news soon came from the hospital where, among others, a distraught Strapac and Mlada Boleslav team members went to visit Demel as soon as possible. Strapac, who had attempted to skate one more shift after the hit on Demel, was too distraught to continue playing the game. He was excused for the rest of the day by the HC Vitkovice coaching staff.

Demel's only injury was a serious concussion; he continues to experience severe headaches and has been declared out for the season. All things considered, however, it could have been much worse. His vital signs are fine, he has has full use of his limbs and has been able to talk normally.

 Several days after the accident on the ice, Demel granted his first interview.

"I only remember my first shift from the game, nothing more," he told iSport.cz. "When I came to, I asked the doctors if I was going to be all right. I tried to move my arms and legs, and everything was OK. Everything except my head. There is still ringing in it."

Demel also recounted his conversation at the hospital with the 22-year-old Strapac, who apologized profusely and asked for Demel's forgiveness. Demel reassured Strapac that he did not hold a grudge. There was no penalty called on the play, nor did the league enact any supplementary discipline against Strapac. Members of both teams agreed that Strapac's hit was not dirty, just that the result was a frightening accident.

"I told him that these sorts of this happen," Demel said to iSport.cz. "I'm not angry at him at all, and I don't want him to have any repercussions."

Demel is in his second season with BK Mlada Boleslav. He has been a mainstay in the Czech Extraliga, where he has played (apart from a partial season in Russia and a full season in Slovakia) since breaking in with Vitkovice in 1997. A well-regarded two-way player at his peak, he has settled into more of a strictly defensive role the last few seasons.

BK Mlada Boleslav is in last place in the 14-team Extraliga. Founded in 1908 as a local athletic club, BK Mlada Boleslav toiled for many years as a minor-league organization until being promoted the Extraliga in 2008. The club has had its share of financial ups and downs. Last September, Phoenix Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata -- a local product who got his start in the organization's junior system before leaving for North America -- bought a one-third ownership interest in the franchise.

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