Last night, Fox Sports Southwest aired its special "Playing for Pevs" which recounted the traumatic game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Dallas Stars when Rich Peverley suffered a cardiac event while on the bench.
We watched it together, and well, there might have been some gross sobbing. Possibly even more than the first time we saw Google's "What We Searched in 2015" commercial, which honestly, Google, why would you do that to us?
If you didn't get a chance to see it last night, the Stars have made it available online. You can watch the entire thing here as well as find out more about the charity initiative announced in the final segment.
The FSSW crew did an excellent job of piecing together the facts of the night with commentary from everyone who was there; from the players, to the trainers, broadcast crew, and even the Blue Jackets' staff. Though the whole special was incredibly moving, a few moments stood out to us.
1) "Silence is OK"
One thing that punctuated that night for fans tuning into the broadcast was the absolute silence. Sports are light, color, flashes, movement, and most of all, a never ceasing wall of sound. Whether it's the scrape of skates on the ice, upbeat guitar rhythms while the Stars throw up a graphic about the opposing team, or simply the play-by-play commentary by Ralph Strangis or now Dave Strader, tune into a Stars game and something is always going on.
In the time following Peverley's collapse on the bench, until it was decided that it was okay for Strangis and Daryl Reaugh to release the name of the player missing from the ice, the broadcast was mostly silent, punctuated by brief "if you're just tuning in now" statements. We can only imagine what it must have been like for fans in the stands, who had even less information than that. There were a few shots of fans refreshing twitter feeds.
In the special, Strangis and Reaugh talk about how stymied they felt as broadcasters, torn between not wanting to give inaccurate information and wanting to be able to give as much information as possible. Jason Walsh, then in his fifth year as head of the Stars broadcasting department, told them, "Silence is okay."
That decision, to me, speaks to the respect that the organization has not only to the players it employs but the fans tuning into the broadcast.
2) The Definition of "Shaken Up"
When Peverley slumped over on the bench, Lindy Ruff said he landed right in the laps of Jamie Benn and Alex Chiasson.
In the footage, the players are visibly disturbed, faces stricken.
Lindy Ruff went with the medical staff as they revived Peverley, but of course, that wasn't caught on tape. Instead, what we see is him re-entering the rink, pale as a ghost. Daryl Reaugh, observing Lindy Ruff coming out of the locker room back to the ice, says he took one look at Ruff's face and thought "We've lost Pevs."
Even now, knowing exactly how everything turned out - knowing that Peverley is doing well, is Director of Player Development - watching the unflappable Lindy Ruff be clearly shaken as he talked to the officials and to Jamie Benn, we almost believed it too.
It was no wonder then, when asked if the team could finish the game, Benn quickly said no.
3) Response Time
From the urgent cries from the bench, to the quick actions of the medical staff, response time was everything that night. Within seconds of Peverley's event, the trainers had him off the bench and behind closed doors. They started CPR right away, eventually giving Peverley a shock to revive him.
Even Columbus Blue Jackets President of Hockey Operations, John Davidson, felt it. He got his team off the ice quickly when it became clear the game wasn't going to re-start anytime soon, and threw his support behind the Dallas Stars decision makers. Once Peverley's condition was stable and he was on his way to the hospital, the officials, along with the GMs of both teams and the league officials in Toronto quickly came to the conclusion to postpone the game.
An impromptu press conference was held, where Dr. Gil Salazar updated everyone on Peverley's condition. Again, it was clear exactly how important to the organization it was to spread the correct information.
After such a long silence, they wanted to share the details with fans.
4) "It was OK to feel like the game isn't that important anymore"
Ruff describes getting on the plane to St. Louis later than evening, in advance of the Stars' game against the Blues the following night.
Alex Chiasson didn't make the flight due to an anxiety attack; instead he visited Peverley in the hospital the next morning after making a trip for himself that night.
Ruff knew how shaken up his players were, and he made a special effort during that flight to sit down with almost every player to talk one-on-one. He told them that it was okay to not be okay, and to feel like the game wasn't that important anymore. That it was just a game versus the life and death situation they'd just dealt with.
Peverley asked if he could get back out to the ice after he was revived. It speaks a lot to the competitive nature of professional athletes and even, if you will, a true dedication to the team and to the sport.
But it speaks even more to an organization that acknowledges the emotional well-being of its personnel and gives them the time and space to process, as they did with Chiasson, and as Ruff did on that flight.
5) "Moments you can't coach"
The game the following night against the St. Louis Blues was a battle. The players were worn out and emotional. Erik Cole describes lying awake in his hotel room for three hours after he tried to go to sleep, just thinking about Peverley and everything they'd gone through as a team that night. He says he and Alex Goligoski ended up sitting up together for about another hour, just talking things through. You have to think they weren't the only ones who had a restless night.
In the media scrum before the game, all the players were asked about was the Peverley situation. Jamie Benn says during his media availability that even though they're in the middle of a run for the playoffs, he can't think of that right now, that they're playing for Peverley.
Highlights of the game follow, the Blues scored the first goal midway through the first period. Colton Sceviour tied it up going into first intermission. Antoine Roussel gave the Stars the go ahead in the third period, only to have the Blues tie it up again.
Ruff describes coaching that game and talks about how tired his players were. There's a voice over during the game action about how listless they seemed early in the game. Vernon Fiddler, in an interview for the special, says that at some point he knew Peverley was watching and wouldn't want them to play that way, wouldn't want them to use him as an excuse to lose.
"We had an excuse to lose, but we needed a reason to win," Ruff says.
And that's the effort he got from the Stars that night. That when they needed that extra spark to get even in the first, Sceviour stepped up with a big goal. Roussel got them the lead in the third. And then, in overtime, Jamie Benn scores the game winner for Peverley. As a voice over to the post game celebratory hugs, Ruff says "these are moments you can't coach, you can't teach."
A word of advice for anyone planning on watching "Playing for Pevs" online or on one of the FSSW replays - have a box of tissues nearby. Possibly two. Possibly just go to Costco beforehand and see if they're running any specials.
In the end, FSSW did an excellent job treating a difficult event in a touching, reflective, and ultimately uplifting manner, showing us what it really means to be part of the Dallas Stars family.