Monday, February 14, 2011

Absurd Goalie Monday: Clint Malarchuk

While we've had a lot of comebacks, this one could be more of the interesting ones-- especially because it was only a week until he played again. Yet, while it was only seven days-- the severity of his comeback made people sit there in amazement after what he had gone through. It's one moment that he will be infamously known for and many will never forget. This is the profile of Clint Malarchuk.

Starting in Junior A with the Fort Saskatchewan Traders, Malarchuk went 23-9-1 in 33 games during the 1977-78 season, as the Traders would be the runner-up in the AJHL season. Overtaking the starting role in the 1978-79 season, Malarchuk would get 52 games in with a 36-15-1 record, helping the Traders actually win the Centennial Cup for the AJHL championship. That season also saw Malarchuk get his feet wet in the WHL, playing 2 games with a 1-0-1 record for the Portland Winterhawks. Malarchuk would stay in Portland for the 1979-80 season, splitting time with Darrell May-- getting in 37 games in with a 21-10-0 record. Malarchuk would split with May again for the 1980-81 season, playing in 38 games with a 28-8-0 record, then going 3-2 in the playoffs.

Malarchuk was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1981 Draft during the fourth round, and he would go to the Fredericton Express of the AHL for the 1981-82 season, gaining the starting role while playing in 51 games, though he sported a dismal 15-34-2 record; while he got a call-up to Quebec for two games, going 0-1-1 in those games. The 1982-83 season started the shuttle years for Malarchuk, as he would shift between Fredericton and Quebec. With Fredericton, he'd go 14-6-5 in 25 games, sharing the Hap Holmes Memorial Award for lowest goals-against with Brian Ford; while with Quebec, Malarchuk went 8-5-2 in 15 games. For the 1983-84 season, Malarchuk stayed up with the Nordiques for most of the season, playing in 23 games, going 10-9-2 overall-- then spent 11 games in Fredericton with a 5-5-1 tally. Due to a logjam in net, Malarchuk was relegated to only Fredericton in the 1984-85 season; going 26-25-4 for the season playing in 56 games, then going 2-4 in six playoff games.

There was a bit of a reprieve during the 1985-86 season, as Malarchuk would stay up with the Nordiques the entire season, while making a play for the starting gig. With a 26-12-4 record in 46 games, Malarchuk was priming himself for the long-haul. However, it came falling down, as he would go 18-26-9 in the 1986-87 season, which pretty much derailed his time in Quebec.

In June of 1987, Malarchuk and Dale Hunter were traded from Quebec to the Washington Capitals for Alan Haworth, Gaeten Duchense, and a first-round pick.....which turned out to be Joe Sakic. Malarchuk would get the starting gig in Washington, while he went 24-20-4 in 54 games, then going 0-2 in three playoff games. Yet-- thanks to the play of former AGM Pete Peeters, Malarchuk had to split time for the 1988-89 season and would go 16-18-7 in 42 games with the Caps before he was moving again.

At the trade deadline, Malarchuk, Grant Ledyard and a sixth-round pick was traded from Washington to the Buffalo Sabres for Calle Johansson and a second-round pick. Malarchuk played seven games to round out the year with a 3-1-1 record....but the year almost finished in tragedy.

Everyone knows the story, on March 22nd 1989-- the skate blade of St. Louis Blues forward Steve Tuttle hit Malarchuk's neck, severing the internal jugular vein. Malarchuk had blood gushing out of his neck and was very close to dying, and would have if he was at the other end of the ice. However, thanks to the quick thinking of then Buffalo trainer and former Army medic Jim Pizzutelli, Malarchuk was able to be saved. The doctors stitched up Malarchuk with over 300 stitches to close up the wound and didn't think he should play the rest of the season-- but he did. In later interviews, Malarchuk said that he left the ice as quick as possible so that his mother wouldn't see him die on the ice. It was bleak in his mind that he had the trainer call his mother and a Pastor was called in for him.

The 1989-90 season saw Malarchuk back in Buffalo to back-up another former AGM, Daren Puppa. Malarchuk would get in 29 games with a 14-11-2 record for the end of the season. Malarchuk would return for the 1990-91 season, but the record wouldn't be as forgiving-- finishing with a 12-14-10 record in 37 games. The 1991-92 season had Malarchuk behind the Puppa and another former AGM Tom Draper, as Malarchuk would 10-13-3 in 29 games and would spend two games with the AHL's Rochester Americans, going 2-0-0. Yet, the Sabres had too many goalies for the 1992-93 season and Malarchuk was loaned out to the IHL's San Diego Gulls and would play 27 games, in which he would regain his form with a 17-3-3 record, then going 6-4 in 10 playoff games, helping the Gulls get to the Turner Cup finals, despite losing. Malarchuk would share the James Norris Trophy for lowest goals-against with Rick Knickle.

That would mark the start of Malarchuk in the IHL, as he would stay in the league, but with the Las Vegas Thunder for the 1993-94 season. He would take the torch, playing in 55 games with a 34-10-7 record. Staying with Las Vegas in 1994-95 season, Malarchuk would see his time reduced, playing 38 games with a 15-13-3 record, as Malarchuk would retire after the season ended. However, it would be short-lived, as Malarchuk would come out of retirement to play four minutes in the 1995-96 season for the Thunder. Malarchuk would have a short retirement again, going 1-1-0 in three games for the 1996-97 season before he would be done for good.

After his playing career, Malarchuk would go into coaching-- first with the Las Vegas in the 1997-98 season, then moving to the Idaho Steelheads of the WCHL from 1998 until 2000. Malarchuk would get the call to the NHL to be a goaltending consultant to the Florida Panthers for the 2002-03 season, then getting on with the Columbus Blue Jackets from 2006 until 2010 before catching on with the Atlanta Thrashers this past summer.

Even after his throat incident, Malarchuk almost got into a fatal situation his farm in Nevada, as he had a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his chin after setting his gun between his legs when waiting to hunt. Malarchuk and his wife deny it was a suicide attempt; but he was consuming alcohol, which didn't blend well with his medication for OCD-- a condition he developed after the throat injury.

It's been a topsy-turvy career and life for Malarchuk, but he has been able to overcome things that most people probably couldn't do after it happened. He beat the odds in hockey and cheated death twice-- plus found a career after the game and stayed in the game thanks to it. You can't keep a good man down, and Malarchuk seems to be living proof.

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