|Kamloops associate coach Dave Hunchak had his career derailed by a cut.|
(Hugo Yuen / Kamloops Daily News)
Daily News Sports Editor
During a game against the visiting Vancouver Giants on Wednesday, defenceman Marek Hrbas of the Kamloops Blazers had one of his gloves fall to the ice.
It happened right in front of the Blazers’ bench, in full view of associate coach Dave Hunchak, who can only cringe when these things happen.
Because whether it’s defenceman Erik Karlsson of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators or Winnipeg Jets defenceman Zach Redmond suffering severe skate cuts, Hunchak can relate.
Why? Because he’s been there.
It was the summer of 1989. Dave Hunchak, a promising 15-year-old defenceman, was attending a Saskatchewan Amateur Hockey Association camp in Wilcox, just south of Regina. He had hopes of getting noticed and perhaps making the province’s Canada Winter Games team.
“I was playing one-on-one against a teammate, Paul Buczkowski,” Hunchak said, referring to a player who would go on to play 337 WHL games with the Saskatoon Blades. “He beat me wide and I went to dive underneath him and as he was striding he cut my arm.
“I went to go grab my stick and my fingertips were up by my elbow and I couldn’t grab anything. I looked down and my glove fell off. I picked up my glove and it was full of blood.”
“Think about it,” he adds. “You’re so jacked up. Your heart rate’s pumping between 170 and 190. The blood has nowhere to go but out, and it’s not coming back.”
Today, the scar wraps more than halfway around Hunchak’s left forearm. As he remembers, it took more than 30 stitches inside the arm and 65 outside to close the wound.
“They had to basically reattach everything on the inside,” he says.
Buczkowski’s one skate blade had cut through muscle, tendons and anything else in its way.
“When it happened, my fingers were up here,” Hunchak says, pointing to his left elbow. “It cut everything. It cut every tendon on the top of my forearm.”
The two middle fingers on his left hand now are wired together, so neither is able to move independently.
The village of Wilcox, which is home to Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, is about 40 minutes from what then was the Plains Hospital, which was located on the southeast side of Regina.
“I got rushed to hospital. I was in shock,” recounts Hunchak, who was later told that medical people thought they might have 45 minutes to get him to hospital before he may have encountered serious difficulties due to loss of blood.
He remembers “my parents having to make a decision about a blood transfusion.”
Back then, there was much concern about the potential of contaminated blood getting into the medical system. This was a huge story of national implications and, in 1993, a Royal commission was established to look into the blood-supply system.
Because of these concerns, Hunchak says, his parents said: “No.”
Luckily for him, all went well at the hospital, although he remembers being in such a state of shock that the first attempt to give him something to slow things didn’t go well.
“The thing I remember the most . . . they were trying to get me to calm down,” he says. “I was in such shock. The needle bounced off my leg and then they jabbed me again.”
When he eventually was released from hospital, his left arm was in a cast from the tips of the fingers to the shoulder, and the arm was positioned across his chest. He was like that for 12 weeks.
Hunchak would return to hockey, but he admits he was never the same player.
“When I started playing again,” he says, “I never left my feet again. Even now, I always try to stay on my feet because you never know.
“It’s what cut my career short.”
Now, more than 23 years later, his left arm below the elbow is mostly numb.
In the offseason, Hunchak has worked as an electrician – he has his papers – and admits there are some things he just can’t do.
As well, he says, “Any time I do anything with my left hand, there is pain in the forearm.”
He also finds that his left arm often is sore when he wakes up. He wonders if arthritis is setting in.
Hunchak has witnessed two other players suffer skate cuts, one of them being former Blazers captain Chase Schaber, whose career ended when one of his legs was sliced open during a first-round playoff game with the Victoria Royals last spring.
“It’s not uncommon; in fact, it’s pretty common,” Hunchak says.
Which is why, when he sees someone like Hrbas lose a glove while involved in the play, Hunchak wants one of two things to happen.
“You have to try and get off the ice,” he says. “Or you have to pick up the glove as fast as you can.”
In this instance, Hrbas paused as he debated getting back into the play. Deciding against it, he took the safe route. He picked up his glove and headed to the bench.
As Hrbas did that, Hunchak breathed a sigh of relief.
JUST NOTES: With 141 victories as the Blazers’ head coach, Guy Charron is three shy of tying Don Hay for second on the franchise’s list of coaching victories. Ken Hitchock tops the list, at 291. . . . Blazers F Matt Needham, who has missed the last eight games with an undisclosed injury, is questionable for tonight as the Blazers meet the visiting Victoria Royals. . . . Kamloops G Cole Cheveldave, who was named the WHL’s goaltender of the week on Monday, posted his ninth career shutout on Sunday. In franchise history, only Devan Dubnyk (15) and Corey Hirsch (13) have more. . . . The Royals are 0-7-2 in their last nine games. They are headed for a sixth-place finish in the Western Conference, which means a first-round matchup with the third-place team. At the moment, that is Kamloops, but the Blazers are just three points behind the B.C. Division-leading Kelowna Rockets, who are the conference’s No. 2 seed. . . . Victoria D Tyler Stahl left in the first period of Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the visiting Spokane Chiefs and didn’t return. The Royals already were without three injured forwards, including Russian veteran Alex Gogolev, 20, who leads them in assists (45) and points (65) despite not playing since Feb. 5.
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