The American Airlines Center has never been so quiet in the presence of a sporting event as it was last night.
After Dallas Stars forward Rich Peverley collapsed on the bench, after his teammates on the bench erupted in a panic trying to get the attention of the referees and emergency medical personnel, while they were waiting for news, there was absolute silence, a sound so heavy you felt like it might crush you.
Even when it was announced that Peverley was conscious and headed to the hospital, news that met applause loud enough to shatter the silence for a least a moment, there was a sense of heaviness at the rink, a soberness that permeated everything as people filed out quietly and headed for their cars and homes.
There are people out there who wonder why the NHL chose to postpone last night's game. Some are coming from a place of curiosity and remove - why did the NHL choose to call this one, at least for the time being, when they have played through so many other things? The answer there is I believe almost everyone involved regrets continuing after the Richard Zednik incident, and two wrongs obviously don't make a right.
Others are coming from a tough-guy place, where once it was determined that Peverley was going to be okay, of course they would have had the mental fortitude to move on right away. To which I politely say that's wonderful for them, but buzz off.
No one on the Stars, and likely no one on the Jackets, were ready to go on like nothing had happened. All you had to do was look at their faces to realize that.
This is not a matter of a player suffering a possibly career ending injury or even a life-altering one in the face of a normal hockey play. This was 15 agonizing minutes wondering if their friend or teammate was going to live or die. At some level, they are all mentally prepared for broken bones and concussions and all the hockey-related trauma you've ever seen. Watching a player with a known heart issue collapse and have to be shocked back, well, that's something no one other than emergency medical personnel is really ready for.
From a fan perspective, the emotions ranged from confusion ("What penalty did I miss? Oh no, did someone fall into the tunnel?") to the growing sense of dread ("The team is all panicked, and I only count 19 green sweaters.") to that sinking feeling of fear ("Where the heck is Peverley?").
Last night was, without a doubt, the most terrified I have ever been watching a Stars game. It was agony waiting at home for word, even as Twitter started to chime in with more positive news. I can't imagine what it must have been like at the American Airlines Center.
And that doesn't even begin to approach what the players must have felt. They saw him collapse, and it looked like a few wandered down the tunnel for a brief moment to see what was going on. They have an emotional bond to Peverley we can't even begin to imagine.
It's almost unspeakably difficult to ask the Stars to play tonight, less than 24 hours after they watched their teammate collapse. Yes, he is recovering (thank God). Yes, he has apparently reached out to them to talk. Still, anyone who saw their faces last night can only imagine just how shook up the players were. That doesn't go away even with reassurance.
But professional sports is a cruel mistress. The schedule and season rolls on as if nothing happened because it must. Tonight, the Stars will don their white road sweaters in St. Louis and begin the process of moving forward from what was almost certainly the most frightening moment of their professional hockey careers.
If I'm honest here, I spent much of last night feeling like I needed a hug from the hockey community (for something that, admittedly, only affected me as an individual in a fairly remote sense). Today I've moved on to the point that I feel the need to give everyone involved hugs, to tell them it will be okay.
And it will be. As panicky as those 15-20 minutes last night were, as scary as the incident was, Peverley is by all reports stable and comfortable at a local hospital. It's about as well as the incident could have ended (and if we're honest, about the best place for it to have happened with full emergency medical personnel and equipment merely seconds away).
Thankfully, it will all be okay. That reminder will have to be a little more conscious for the time being, as it always is in the aftermath of something so frightening, but it will get there. Peverley will work with his doctors to determine exactly what happened, why and how to move forward with it. The team will begin the process of moving forward with him in their thoughts and prayers.
Maybe the best news of all is how he reportedly came to, asking how much time was left and if he could get back in the game. For all the terrifying moments last night, he was ready to go back to hockey (albeit, likely in a more-than-slightly-confused way).
So tonight the team gets back to hockey in the way he wished he could.
Perhaps playing hockey will be the best thing for them tonight - after all, many athletes say they use their sports as an escape from real-life problems, a place where they can put the things that worry or bother them aside for three hours. And maybe that's why last night was so jarring for both us and them, a terrifying real world intrusion on a place that is supposed to be relatively safe from such things.
Stay well, Pevs. We're all thinking of you.