One of the perils of being a superstar in the NHL, especially before the recently emphasis on player protection, is there's always someone on the other team looking to knock you out of the game.
Mike Modano was on the receiving end of those types of shots several times throughout his Dallas Stars career, the most notable of which might be his encounter with Ruslan Salei and the end boards just after the Stars won the Stanley Cup. But earlier in his career, during the February of the first season the Stars played in Texas, he took another brutal blow to the head from New York Rangers captain Mark Messier.
Messier, now somewhat ironically developing helmets that lower the risk of concussion, was a legitimate superstar at the time, but he was also well known as a guy who would try to knock the other team's star out of the game by any means necessary. And when he saw the young Modano with his head down cutting over the blue line, he came through with a nasty shot to Modano's chin that popped Modano's helmet off and left him unconscious along the boards and for the next 10 minutes, according to the team doctor.
That hit might have simply slipped in the annals of "completely unpunished headshots from the 1990s" and faded from the memories of Stars fans if it weren't for a rather unfortunate incident loading him into the ambulance.
Somewhere along the line, the gurney, with Modano strapped to it in full spinal protection, got knocked askew and took a slow topple to the left, landing on its side. I'm sure every Stars executive and fan cringed when they saw it (and every personal injury attorney in the city started looking for the number for Modano's agent), but Modano was none the worse for wear, and it became something Stars fans still laugh about today.
At least one broadcast crew was there to catch it all, and that clip has lived on as a YouTube legend ever since. To watch it again, head after the jump.
The only clip of this call that seems to exist is from the Rangers crew, though I can understand why the Stars don't have this as part of their official highlight package. You might detect a note of blue-colored glasses, or at least the filter of the acceptance of headshots at the time, in the first minute or so of this call.
If this isn't an elbow (and I sure think it is, but there are Rangers fans who will swear to this day that it's shoulder contact only), then it's a prime reason the blindside headshot has been taken out of the game. It's also a great example of why tightening your chinstrap properly is so important (and I am looking directly at you, Jason Arnott).
And it goes without saying that this is probably a clip that's shown during every EMT and paramedic training course as "How not to handle a stretcher." Though to be fair to those guys, it was actually the Stars trainer that knocked the stretcher over, according to Modano.
While that stretcher drop will never cease to be funny, especially since we know Modano came out of it unscathed, I was more struck by the reaction to Messier's hit. It was definitely a different era - the hit didn't even receive a minor penalty, let alone a suspension - but I was surprised to see that even the Stars coaching staff was on board with it.
Bob Gainey, coach and general manager of the Stars, said: "I didn't think it was a dirty hit. He got his shoulder right on the jaw. I don't know if it was so much a hit as Mike turned and skated right into him."
Somewhere, Brian Burke is smiling and nodding, I just know it.
But frankly, as much as I love old-time hockey, I think I'm okay with explicitly outlawing this type of headshot because of incidents like this. Especially given what we know about the cumulative impact of concussions today, seeing anyone out of the ice for this long is something to avoid at all cost.
And hey, on the flip side, there haven't been any more stretcher dropping incidents that I know of. At least, not in the NHL.