During the offseason, tampabaylightning.com will talk to Lightning players to get their first-hand account of a moment from the 2017-18 season, an update on their offseason or just what's on their mind currently.
First up, we have Dan Girardi, who, while killing a penalty during a January 7 regular season game in Detroit, took a hard one-timer off the stick of Red Wings forward Martin Frk up high and collapsed to the ice. Fortunately, Girardi avoided major injury - he missed only two games -- as he turned while trying to block the shot, the puck hitting him in the back of the neck instead of the head. The defenseman played 77 games in his first season with the Lightning and ended up blocking a team-high 155 shots.
None, however, were as memorable (or scary) as the rocket he took to the neck at Little Caesar's Arena.
Here's Girardi's account of that incident, as told to tampabaylightning.com beat writer Bryan Burns.
"That guy's got a laser beam of a shot, and that's why he's there on the power play. I'm almost positive the time before we played Detroit, it was at home and I got hit in the side of the leg or the hip off a shot by Frk and it hurt through the pants. I was like, 'Wow, that's a hard shot,' you know what I mean?
Going into the penalty kill pre-scout, the coaches were like, 'Frk's going to be setting up over there, and that's the right D's guy.' I'm like, 'Alright, I've got him. I've got to do that, take care of that.' That's pretty standard for a right defenseman with a right-handed guy, one-timer over there. Leading up to that play, I actually took one in the butt I think maybe a couple shifts before or maybe even the same power play. It's hard to remember that far back. And then obviously a little bit later I got hit right in the back of the neck. Before that, everything was going well. I scored a sick backhand tip-in goal and also got an assist in the first period. Then in the second I took a dart right in the neck.
When the play happened, you can kind of read it coming. When it goes to the top, usually it's not a one-timer. It's going right to the guy on the flank. I try to read that so I'm in the right spot. Obviously, I was in the right spot but maybe the shot got away from him a little bit, I don't know. He's trying to shoot top corner. Usually, I'm kind of getting it in the leg or the back, the hip, something like that. But that one just went real high. I've been doing that for a long time, just reading the play and getting in the lane for the one-timer. Most of the time, you get hit in the spot where you've got some pads, but there have been a lot of times where you get hit in the ankle or somewhere where there's no padding and you're like, 'Oh my God that kills.' Obviously, there's no padding in the neck. I don't know if I saw it coming or not. I can't really tell you. Instinctively, I kind of turned my head a little bit. I don't even know if that's what I always do, but it kind of just happened. And thank God I did because it would have hit me square in the face, right in the jaw. I don't know if I did that on purpose or if that was just a reaction, but I'm glad I did.
When I got hit, I didn't really know what was wrong. It was like I couldn't even talk or say anything. It was such a weird feeling that I've never had before. I didn't lose consciousness at all. When it hit me, tingles shot down my right arm, so obviously it hit me in the back of the neck on the right side. Like, it kind of went numb for a second. When I went back and watched the replay, my right hand was moving and doing some weird dance on the ice because I think I just didn't know what to do because it hurt a lot and then it was tingly and I was kind of nervous not knowing if something was really bad. Then it went away. Luckily, it didn't last too long. It still hurt a lot, but it just slowly kind of went away. When it hits you in the neck, you don't know, right? Did I crack something? There's so much important stuff up in that area, you don't want anything to go wrong there. (Lightning head athletic trainer Tom Mulligan) came out there pretty fast and all the guys were waving their trainer down, everyone was waving people over. It was a very, very scary moment. I'm laying face down on the ice not knowing if there was something really wrong. It was definitely one of the scariest moments of my career.
I remember Mully asking me, Dan, what are you feeling? Are your arms okay? Where does it hurt in your neck?' I remember a little bit of that moment, but I don't remember everything he said to me. I think Stammer was talking to me, like, 'Hey, are you okay,' something along those lines. Watching the guys around Mully and me on the ice, you can see everyone is very concerned. When I finally sat up, I think that's when everyone was like, 'He's okay. He's hurt but we don't need to bring out the stretcher and nothing's too serious.' That was a good feeling when I was able to skate off. I was very sore, but I was able to skate off myself and get off the ice and go down to the tunnel and get everything looked at. Going way back to when I was playing as a kid, my parents and coaches would say, 'If you can skate off, skate yourself off the ice. If your leg's not broken or anything, you can skate off the ice.' I knew I could sit up and get up, so I'm not just going to have people drag me off the ice in a stretcher. I skated on my own. I had a little help there, but I was just slowly gliding off the ice. I think that probably helped my parents and my wife and everyone watching that I was definitely okay.
The walk to the locker room felt like the longest ever, even though it is in that new arena. Going through my head, I don't know what's wrong. It's really sore, but there's no tingling in my arms. Everything's moving well, but I've got to know if something's cracked there. They did some tests at the rink. On the x-ray, there was a kind of cloudy spot, something they weren't sure about, so I went to the hospital. One of the security guards in Detroit drove me. I got a CT scan at the hospital. It felt like a long time all this was happening, but I made it back to the rink right before the end of the game. Then they told me everything was fine.
When the guys came off the ice, I was in the room with my dress clothes on eating some pizza and drinking a Pepsi. I think when they saw that, they realized I was okay. They were very relieved I was back. I was doing the full shoulder and neck turn to look to the right because I couldn't really turn my neck, so they were giving me a hard time about that. I was able to talk to the guys, joke around like I always do, kind of be myself, and I think that was good for them to see that. The trainers were joking with me saying that I got the Girardi hat trick: a goal, assist and a blocked shot. It's very similar to the Gordie Howe hat trick I hear.
Video: TBL@DET: Girardi taps home Namestnikov's smooth feed
I watched a replay of the play kind of right away, and then I really didn't look at it at all again. My wife watched it live. She told me that's the most scared she's ever been watching me play hockey. Obviously, I've been hit hard and have blocked a lot of shots, but she was like, 'That's the first time I've been actually scared for your health and safety.' She didn't like that feeling. My son and daughter saw it the morning after on NHL On The Fly or whatever we watch every morning, and they didn't like it either. A lot of friends and family texted me concerned. I was definitely very fortunate nothing was injured. I didn't play the last two games before we had a week-long break. I maybe could have battled through and tried to play right away, but I think the smart thing was to take a week off and kind of gather my thoughts and just say a little prayer.
The next day I was very sore in the neck and did a lot of work with the trainers loosening it up, heating it, doing some work on it. I think we had a day off and then the next day I did the morning skate, a little stiff but I've been battling through a lot of stuff for a long time, so for me it's like, 'Alright, let's go try to play.' But then I warm up and I kind of just didn't feel myself. When you don't feel you have 100 percent clarity or you're not sure, you need to be careful and the break was coming up too, I think we decided the smartest thing to do was to kind of pull back a little bit. I'm not getting any younger so I've got to make sure when I'm hurt to take some time. The break came at a perfect time. When I came back, I felt great.
It didn't really change my view on blocking shots. I'm still going to do that stuff, and it was just sort of a freak thing. There's no hesitation or anything like that. That's the way I play. I'm sure the next time I went on the ice there was a part somewhere deep, deep, deep down that was like, 'Okay, what are you thinking? Why do you keep doing this thing?' But it was not enough to ever come up and let me know. It was just business as usual: block the shot when it's there, do whatever, take hits, make hits and kind of just pick up where I left off before that game. Nothing changed.
That was the first time anything like that ever happened to me. I got hit kind of above the elbow one time when I went down to one knee. I took one on the helmet before from Ovechkin when I was with New York. It might have been from the same spot, obviously that's his office over there. It went off the side of the helmet, but it was more of a knuckle puck, not a full laser beam. But that wasn't anywhere near as scary as the one in Detroit. It's funny, I just YouTubed the play so it would be fresh in my memory. It's cringeworthy when you go back and watch it. I'm just very, very thankful that nothing was seriously injured."