Normally I don’t make an appearance after the season until the draft, but there is an amazing story from the 2008-09 season that has not yet hit the public. That being said, I always feel it is my duty to give you the most “inside” information on the Lightning and this story certainly falls into that category. Now I must warn you, if you have a weak stomach there is some pretty gruesome stuff in this blog.
This story is one that should go down in hockey lore, which is why I feel it is necessary to bring out the truth. Remember back to January 3, 2009 as the Lightning were taking on the Carolina Hurricanes at the St. Pete Times Forum. With about 22.7 seconds remaining on the clock in the second period Carolina’s Anton Babchuk fired a slap shot that struck the face of Lightning defenseman Andrej Meszaros. Meszaros, while bleeding profusely from his mouth, skated off to the locker room and was reported to have 64 stitches. He played the very next night in Atlanta, less than 24 hours after suffering what would give most people nightmares.
While Meszaros did take 64 stitches, the complete story is one of bravery and determination that is more reason why hockey players are the toughest athletes in the world. I recently had a talk with Lightning Head Athletic Trainer Tom Mulligan and he gave me the full run down of how those 24 hours actually went down. This is his take.
After being struck in the face Meszaros went straight to the doctor’s office in the Lightning medical room. There he was diagnosed with a displaced fracture of the maxilla extending from just above his upper teeth to his nose. By appearance you could see that his teeth were out of alignment with the right side of his face compressed inward. Basically a portion of that maxilla bone had been pushed back into his mouth by the impact of the puck. In simple terms, the teeth, and the bone holding them, on the right side of his mouth had been pushed behind those on the left side.
The oral surgeon on call that night was Dr. Bob Orta. He realigned the fracture right there by pulling traction on the right side of Meszaros’ face. Imagine the doctor pulling on that maxilla bone to reset it into its original position. Meszaros then had to sit through about one hour of suturing by Dr. Charles Slonim to repair all of the damage and lacerations. There were upwards of 60 sutures used to repair all the damage.
Amazingly, Meszaros wanted to return to the game that night but wasn’t able to simply because the amount of suturing that needed to be done. There was just too much to repair to have him ready before the end of the game. He was even adamant as he was being worked on that the equipment staff put a full cage on his helmet so he could rejoin the game as soon as possible. If the incident would have happened at the end of the first period, instead of the second, Meszaros probably would have been back on the ice.
After the game the team flew to Atlanta for a game the following night. Meszaros was unable to eat any solid foods so he was on a steady diet of protein and nutrition shakes that night. He was given clearance to resume playing whenever he could tolerate the pain as long as he wore a full face shield. Even though he was cleared to play, no one expected he would be able to play against the Thrashers.
The next morning Meszaros said that he was able to get a couple hours of sleep although the right side of his face had swelled to about twice its natural size. Once again, no one was expecting him to play but he was insistent that he would play with a full cage on. For his pre-game meal he selected chicken and pasta. Because he still couldn’t eat solid foods, the Lightning staff had the hotel puree the meal into a mashed potato-like consistency so he could eat it. It was painful for Meszaros to even move his lips, let alone try to eat something. He described that each time he took a breath even the air that crossed his mouth caused him significant pain.
As game time approached the coaching staff had a plan in place expecting that Meszaros would not play, but he insisted he could take the warm-up. Afterwards, he looked at everyone like they were crazy to even think he wasn’t going to play. Sure enough, Meszaros was in the line-up that night and played one of his best games of the year while inspiring his teammates. Less than 24 hours after taking a slap shot to the face, Meszaros logged 15:31 of ice time with two shots on goal, two hits, one blocked shot and a plus-1 rating.
Simply amazing. A big thank you to Tommy Mulligan for sharing this unbelievable story.
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