By: Will Burchfield
Dan Girardi has blocked more than 1,700 shots over his 12-year NHL career.
Time after time (after time after time), he’s thrust his body in front of screaming vulcanized rubber, without a trace of hesitation, for the betterment of the team. If the perils of this routine are obvious, so are they easy to forget when a player looks past them so often.
Sunday night’s game between the Red Wings and the Lightning offered a stark, frightening reminder.
Girardi was drilled in the head by a one-timer off the stick of Martin Frk, one of the hardest shooters in the league. The Lightning defenseman, who was bent to a knee when the puck hit him, immediately crumpled to the ice and lay face-down for several agonizing minutes. The crowd at Little Caesars Arena looked on in silence as doctors and trainers from both teams came to Girardi’s aid.
To everyone’s relief, Girardi eventually rose to his feet and skated slowly off the ice with the help of two of his teammates. According to the Lightning, “initial reports indicate he is okay.”
Dylan Larkin was standing just behind Girardi when the incident happened and said the sound of the impact was daunting. He immediately signaled for help, and the trainers were on the ice in seconds.
Said Henrik Zetterberg, “That’s when basically every player is on the same team, when things like that happen. You don’t want that to happen to anyone. I heard he’s doing okay — lucky. Hopefully he’s fine.”
Jeff Blashill said it brought him back to a similar incident that occurred years ago at Joe Louis Arena.
“I was on our bench when Patrick Eaves got hit by Roman Josi’s shot a long time ago. That was one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen, and this would be similar. That’s a scary, scary thing for sure,” said Blashill.
Fortunately Girardi turned his head when the puck left Frk’s stick, so he was struck in the side of the head rather than the face.
“Thankfully I think he’s going to be alright,” Blashill said. “I think it ended up hitting him in a spot that he can be fine with. I thought it hit him right in the face, and I was really, really worried for him. So was the rest of the team, so were the doctors, so were the trainers. It was instantaneous that our doctors were ready to go.”
Girardi didn’t return to the game, but his teammates said he wasn’t much worse for the wear when they joined him in the locker room between periods.
“He was himself. He was making jokes, laughing,” said Steven Stamkos, via the Tampa Bay Times.
“The usual ‘G,'” said Ryan Callahan, Girardi’s longtime friend.
The 33-year-old Girardi entered Sunday’s game tied for seventh in the NHL with 94 blocked shots. He’s finished among the top 10 in this department every season since 2009-10, twice leading the league during that span.
And he won’t stop now.
“There’s no doubt in my mind when he’s back on the ice, he’ll be doing the same thing,” Callahan said. “That’s how he’s made, that’s how he’s built. That’s what’s made him so successful.”
“He’s a guy that’s going to lay everything on the line for his teammates,” said Tyler Johnson.
Said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, “The kid has guts, man.”
On the other end of things, Blashill said he intends to talk with the Frk to ensure the youngster won’t start second-guessing himself when he has a chance to shoot.
“I’ll have to talk to him, for sure. I saw it with Ryan Sproul in the minors [when he hit] Mitch Callahan in the face, and I thought it affected Ryan for a while. He stopped shooting the puck,” Blashill said. “Unfortunately there’s just inherent risks in being a professional hockey player, just like a lot of other professions, and that’s one of them.
“Nobody wants to see anything like that happen. But he’s a big-time shooter, he’s gotta be a shooter, so we’ll talk to him.”
Along with his fearless block, Girardi tallied a goal and an assist in Tampa Bay’s 5-2 win. He was named the third star of the game for his efforts.