By CAROL STUART / Brentwood Home Page
Fourth-generation professional hockey player Blake Geoffrion, a Brentwood native, and his family had a big blessing to celebrate this holiday season. …
4th-gen pro hockey player recovering from skate-slashing, skull fracture
Fourth-generation professional hockey player Blake Geoffrion, a Brentwood native, and his family had a big blessing to celebrate this holiday season after an opponent’s hockey skate blade sliced open his head and fractured his skull.
Geoffrion, a former Nashville Predator, is still recovering from the serious head injury that his parents just happened to be on hand for while he was playing for minor-league Hamilton in Montreal’s arena Nov. 9. However, even though his hockey future could be in jeopardy, Blake has come through the freakish injury with almost a miraculous outcome.
|From left, mom Kelly, Blake, dad Danny, Brice, Sebastian, Blake’s fiancee Katelyn; front, Danny’s mom Marlene.|
“I think what had happened to me, the unfortunate accident and having the injury that I did, it kind of just puts things in perspective and how important other things are in life than just hockey,” Blake, 24, said Friday between Christmas and New Year’s.
“This Christmas we were able to spend some time together and have a great time. It’s been the first time in a while that I’ve had a Christmas with my family that I’ve been able to be at because of the profession I have. It just kind of reiterates more and more how important family really is.”
His mom, Kelly Geoffrion, said there were several what she calls “God shots” – “because they’re like little things that happen that aren’t coincidence; it’s the Big Guy” – along the way. The first was the fact that she and Danny Geoffrion decided at the last minute to travel to the game.
“We’re all a pretty religious family and I’m a pretty religious guy, and I think that everything happens for a reason,” said Blake, formerly active in the Brentwood United Methodist youth group. “I think they were there for a reason, and for their plans to change at the last minute like that, I think it was meant to be.
“I was just glad they were there and able to be with me when that happened. I think it would have been pretty hard for me and tough for me to have been there by myself. I’m sure they would have come up as soon as they could have. When it all went down, it was pretty crazy.”
Said Kelly: “It’s going to be a great New Year. Our present came early.”
From skating off ice to possible brain damage
Blake, the grandson and great-grandson of two NHL Hall of Famers, had a checkup in Montreal with his neurologist last week but can’t disclose any medical information due to team policy. He gets tired and has headaches as is normal with his injury, his mom said, but was out of the hospital in record time according to his doctors.
|Syracure Crunch’s Jean-Phillipe Cote’s hit against Hamilton Bulldogs’ Blake Geoffrion in AHL game Nov. 9|
His dad Danny, a former NHL player, and his mom initially thought Blake had hurt his shoulder as he actually skated off after the big hit — and were “bummed” he got hurt in the first period and probably wouldn’t return to the game.
And even after they were summoned to ride in an ambulance with him, they didn’t know just how bad it was till Blake started having seizures during a CT scan and needed emergency surgery.
“You always hope that it’s no big deal, a little surgery, patch him up and let’s get going again because it happens so fast,” Danny said. “But that night when they came out of the surgery, and the surgeons are . . . telling us ‘Hey we’re going to be straight with you, that everything went really, really good. It couldn’t have gone any better in the surgery. But we’re going to run another CAT scan on Blake in 30 minutes and if he has swelling on the brain, then Blake will more than likely wake up with permanent brain damage.’
“That’s when it really hit all of us.”
‘Kind of crazy that I am still here’
During the three- to four-hour operation, surgeons lifted part of the skull where it was crushed into the brain lining on the left side of his head, cleaned the lining, put the skull piece back, inserted a titanium plate about half-dollar size, covered it with acrylic bone and stitched him up, Kelly said.
The Geoffrions didn’t know what to expect when Blake woke up. The doctors said he might not be able to move or might be brain-dead, but when he awoke he wanted to know why he had all those wires on for a CT scan.
|Geoffrion with the Canadiens, where his paternal grandfather & maternal great-grandfather starred.|
“It makes you stop. You hear about terrible things that happen … but when it happens to you it kind of hits home,” Kelly said. “You realize how quickly it can be taken away and how short life really is and what matters.
“But, on the other hand, we have so much to be grateful for. . . . The bottom line is God was so good to us because he doesn’t have any brain damage, he’s walking, he’s talking, he doesn’t have any memory loss.”
As a hockey player from pee wee to the juniors and international competition to the pros, including a successful college career at Wisconsin, Blake has had all kinds of injuries from bumps and bruises to a couple of separated shoulders and sprained MCLs in the knee. He even was skated over a few years ago, and a tendon cut in his wrist.
“That was kind of a serious one, I could have been out for a long time but I was fortunate enough that it was only a slight tear, not a full tear,” he said. “This one was more about not just an injury, but was more about my life and how I almost lost it. And it’s kind of crazy that I am still here, but I’m just very, very lucky.
“I think my whole life has always been hockey, hockey, hockey and now it’s kind of put things in perspective for me that there’s a lot more things that are way more important than a game of hockey.”
Bittersweet that accident was in Montreal arena
Kelly and Danny were originally just going to go see younger sons, Division I college hockey players Sebastian and Brice, play with their University of Alabama-Huntsville team in Boston on Saturday and Sunday. Then Danny realized Blake was going to play in Montreal on that Friday so they changed their tickets to fly into New Hampshire and rent a car for the drive to Canada.
That was the first “God shot,” she said. Some others:
- A trauma doctor was behind the bench since it was a National Hockey League arena (where the parent team Montreal Canadiens play) even though it was a minor-league game. The trauma doctor was called over by the trainer, surmising it was probably a skull fracture and sending him to the hospital by ambulance right away.
- Blake skated off the ice on his own and talked all the way over in the ambulance.
- Despite it being the Canadian health care system, there was a CAT scan room open right away and an emergency operating room open when Blake began having seizures.
- Montreal’s top trauma doctor just happened to “be in the neighborhood” after flying in from an Ohio conference, and the other top trauma doctor was on call that night in the hospital.
Blake Geoffrion at the game when he was injured
The farm team plays in a lot of little towns where such doctors or medical facilities aren’t available. “But the accident happened in Montreal, which was bittersweet for Blake – he was like why did it have to happen in Montreal where Pappy had his jersey — because his grandfather’s and his great-grandfather’s jerseys are both retired there [Boom Boom Geoffrion is No. 5, Howie Morenz is No. 7, so Blake wears No. 57]. So, as much as he was bummed out that it happened in Montreal, it was another blessing, because it was in a big city with a big hospital and the best doctors you could ask for.”
- Blake had suffered concussions previously but the CT operator came to meet him and double-check the record because he didn’t have any scarring on the brain as there usually is.
- The family ran into Billy Butters, a buddy of Blake’s who runs a Christian athletes’ organization for hockey players, at a breakfast spot. Butters and Blake prayed together.
- Kelly, who can’t read road signs in French or speak the language like Danny, after a rough night burst into tears when the hotel manager told her the car company wasn’t bringing a car for her to drive to Hamilton in the Toronto area where Blake had been playing. When she took a taxi to the car company, they offered her a GPS – which wouldn’t have been automatically included if the car had been brought to her.
“I just looked over in that empty seat and I said “OK, God, I know you’re over there, you’re going to help me through this.’ I had my own little moment in the parking lot. It was so funny … I knew God at that point was my co-pilot.
Two days after she returned from that trip, a massive snowstorm came through Toronto and Montreal and advised against driving on the 401 – the route she had taken.
“Then of course the not having any brain damage, and being able to talk and eat all that kind of stuff. Needless to say that was another God shot,” Kelly said.
“Even the doctor came in and he goes ‘Young man you were awfully lucky.’ And I said ‘Oh, no, luck had nothing to do with this.’ ”
‘Brutal hit, but totally legal’
Danny Geoffrion called the injury a freak play. After the huge hit, Cote’s skate goes up in the air as Blake is flying down and Blake then hits his head on the ice.
“It’s a brutal hit, but it is totally legal,” Danny said. “You’re just caught by surprise. You don’t even see really the injury, that’s how freakish this whole thing is. “… The guy’s blade almost acts like a knife, because if you look at the blade of the skate, the back of it is about, call it an inch long, and that’s basically the size of the cut that he has on the size of his head.
“And it’s like in mid-air the skate must have come right off of the board and you see the skate basically, the back of the skate stabbing him on the side of the head, right underneath the helmet, right where there’s no protection from the helmet.”
|Video footage of Cote hit on Geoffrion|
Danny said he hasn’t seen or heard of such an incident happening in all his years watching or playing the game.
The parents were initially relieved it didn’t appear to be a head injury, when they thought Blake was clinching his shoulder. It turned out Blake was stooped over because of blood running down his neck.
“I thought I was fine until I got up and my head was bleeding profusely,” Blake said. “I knew that I needed stitches and got off the ice and I was mad because I knew I’d have to leave the game.”
When Danny got an unusual call on his cell phone from the medical staff, the Geoffrions thought it was weird. The dad sat in the front of the ambulance and was actually more scared about going 100 mph.
“Blake talked to us the entire way, normally,” Kelly said. “He’s like ‘I’m so glad I don’t have a concussion. Mom, don’t panic; I just need some stitches. It’s just too deep for them to stitch on the bench.’ He was talking, he seemed totally fine, so I was totally fine.”
When hospital staff asked for consent for surgery, Kelly told them “Whoa, whoa, we need to talk about this for a minute.” “Madame, we don’t have a minute,” they said.
“Danny and I took turns losing it, crying, because we didn’t know what to expect when he woke up,” Kelly said.
“Here’s this kid who has this charmed life, and it happened like that with the click of a finger.”
Geoffrion’s dad: Stay in school, get education
Blake, who lives in Chicago, was in tip-top shape as a professional athlete but still was discharged after only three days in intensive care. He stayed in a hotel in Montreal another 10 days before he was cleared to fly back to his Chicago condo after another CAT scan.
“I remember everything, from the time that it happened till the time I woke up after surgery,” he said. “It was pretty scary obviously with everything that happened. But I’m recovering well, and hopefully I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Blake said he’s thankful for all the support he’s been shown from family, friends, fans – even random strangers – including those who have reached out on Facebook or Twitter or “possibly .. even got my address somehow.”
|Blake and fiancee Katelyn|
“It’s amazing what’s important, knowing that people are behind you and supporting you and are in your corner can do for a recovery like this,” he said. “Just emotional and mentally it’s pretty draining to have suffered an injury like this. I think about people that go through cancer, something like that, I couldn’t even imagine. I’m just really blessed to have the kind of people I do around me.”
The Geoffrions, including Danny’s “mum” and Blake’s fiancée, celebrated Christmas the weekend before when the family went to Wisconsin to see Sebastian and Brice play the Badgers. Blake even went to the game at his alma mater and dropped the ceremonial puck.
“I love my family to death, they’ve always supported me though everything, through the good and bad, not only my mom and dad but my brothers as well,” Blake said. “I’m very blessed to have a family that’s as loving and as close as we all are, and nothing makes me happier than when I’m around them.”
Danny said there’s a lesson to be learned for other athletes who are thinking of leaving school early, since Blake stayed at UW and got his degree instead of signing his junior year to play for the Milwaukee Admirals.
“If it happens that Blake decides he’s not going to play anymore or if he’s forced not to play anymore, he’s got his college degree to fall back on,” Danny said. “How good is that? Just imagine, this happened in seconds, he’s skating up the ice with the puck, it wasn’t even a minute and it’s a life-changing experience, it could be a life-changing experience.”
A time hasn’t come to make a decision yet on Blake’s hockey future.(“But they haven’t said he couldn’t play,” Kelly notes.)
“He’s not back to 100 percent, but considering, we don’t want to complain, we are grateful,” Kelly said. “God is good to the Geoffrions, what can I tell you. It’s a fact.”