DETROIT – Fear instantly filled Drew Miller’s thoughts as a skate blade sliced through the right side of his face Tuesday night at Joe Louis Arena.
“When it happened, my first reaction was, ‘Oh my God, my eye is gone,’” Miller said, 17 hours after doctors needed 60 stitches to close two gruesome lacerations.
“It hit so hard … there was so much blood that I wasn’t sure if it had clipped my eyeball or what had happened. I wasn’t sure,” Miller added. “I definitely feel very blessed that the skate didn’t hit my eye. I was very lucky. Right now it’s just dealing with the cut, the stitches and the soreness. Other than that my eye’s good and I got on the ice today and felt pretty good.”
Wearing a plastic guard below his visor, Miller skated onto the ice to stick taps from his teammates at practice Wednesday afternoon.
“It was a big scare, not only for him, but for all of us,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We’re all happy things have seemed to have worked out for him and it’s good to see him back on the ice out there.”
With Tuesday’s game against the Ottawa Senators barely a minute old, Miller was accidentally cut by Mark Stone’s skate in the face-off circle to the left of Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek.
Miller, who has always worn a visor, immediately made a dash to the Wings’ bench and down the tunnel to the team’s dressing room.
“Right away I knew something bad had happened,” he said. “My first reaction was get off the ice and get as close to the doctors as I can, because I didn’t know what exactly had happened. I knew it was around my eye. I wasn’t sure if my eye was gone or what was going on. My first reaction was get to the doctors, the people who can help me.”
The scary incident occurred as Stone and Wings center Luke Glendening faced off in the Wings’ zone at 1:04 of the first period. Miller charged into the center of the circle to battle for the puck when Stone lost his balance fell forward and his right leg kicked back toward Miller’s face.
It happened so fast, Miller said, that he wasn’t sure at first what hit him.
“I would like to think that watching the video, the reaction, I kind of pulled myself back a little bit,” he said. “It was just reactionary. It wasn’t like I saw it coming. If I saw it I guess it was just my reflexes.”
The razor-sharp steel blade didn’t miss Miller’s eye by much. He was left with a deep four-inch long jagged cut – from the side of his face diagonally toward the bottom of the right eye. Another deep cut is above the right eye.
“The facial scar I can deal with that,” Miller said. “It was just my eye that I was the most worried about. You want to have a normal life after hockey and have both eyes that can see. That’s what I was worried about I can deal with the scar. I was just worried about the eye.”
Knowing that the injury could have had far worse consequences, the 31-year-old Miller was feeling grateful.
“Right away you think, ‘Man I lost my eye and my hockey career is over and my life is going to be totally different with losing an eye,’” Miller said. “Thank God it was quickly that we found out that it wasn’t too bad. You’re thankful for it and it definitely put things into perspective.”
Though the injury occurred in the first minute of the game, Miller’s teammates weren’t updated on his condition until team doctors finished sewing him up, which by then was the second intermission.
“I couldn’t believe how bad it was,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “I could tell when he skated off the ice he was in a lot of pain. He was really scared. It was almost like he knew something bad happened, looking at his facial expression. Seeing the replay of what happened, it was bad.”
However, it wasn’t enough to deter Miller’s desire to return to the game, which the Wings lost, 2-1, in a shootout.
“Yeah I wanted to come back for the third,” he said. “It took a while to get stitched up. I was back there for a while but the doctors – and my wife – came to the conclusion that I probably shouldn’t go back out just for the sake of not ripping the stitches. It was pretty deep too in the cheek area, so we decided it was best to just let my body rest and not go back out there with the shock and the emotional drain I got from it.”
Miller is the Wings’ iron man, holding the current mark for consecutive games played. He’d prefer that his streak reach 159 straight games in Thursday’s all-important contest against Boston.
“I think we have to talk to some more doctors and see how my face reacts,” Miller said. “I guess maybe it takes the next 24 hours to see if the swelling gets worse or how that is with skating. I don’t know how that will react. We’ll have to wait until tomorrow and see how things kind of hopefully get better.”