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Learning From Bouwmeester: Iron men on the ice, humans off of it

It’s just a game...

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Anaheim Ducks Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

All I can remember is pulling up to my parent’s house and seeing my mom standing in front of the television like something unusual had happened. Note to readers: my mom isn’t a big hockey fan, so I knew something was very wrong.

”Dan, a Blues player collapsed. I think his name is Jay Bouwmeester.”

One of the biggest misconceptions about athletes is the idea that they exist on another level of existence than the ordinary folks who watch them play.

Now, they are indeed physically empowered unlike most people and can compete on playing fields better than the majority, but at the end of the day, they are people leaving that arena. Bouwmeester is 36 years old and has played in 1,240 games in the NHL, earning him the distinction of an iron man. After six shifts and less than six minutes of play on Tuesday night in Anaheim, Bouwmeester collapsed on the Blues bench due to a cardiac incident.

The Blues medical staff on hand, along with Anaheim’s medical staff and first responders, were able to stabilize Bouwmeester before he left the building for the nearby hospital. A defibrillator, thankfully placed on each NHL bench a few years ago, helped saved his life. These medical upgrades came after Jiri Fischer, a player for the Detroit Red Wings, collapsed on the bench in 2005. Richard Peverley, a player for the Dallas Stars, experienced a cardiac event in 2014. If there’s one thing the NHL doesn’t mess around with, it’s player safety.

The NHL cancelled the rest of Tuesday night’s game. Meanwhile, around the world, people sat in shock. For the first time in my long-term memory, a Blues game was postponed due to a serious player injury. No one really knew anything until an hour or so later. Since Bouwmeester is right around my age, and I have heart disease in my family history, this threw me for a loop. I couldn’t sit still. I wanted to know more. I couldn’t watch the below video enough.

The Blues were going to leave California after Tuesday’s game, but instead stayed in Orange County overnight with their fallen teammate. More news will break about Bouwmeester as the day goes on, I am sure. The game against the Vegas Golden Knights will go on, but I wouldn’t expect the Blues defenseman back for awhile.

When Fischer experienced his episode in 2005, the doctors immediately told him he couldn’t play for 4-6 weeks. However, another incident a week later at his home would keep him from the ice for the rest of that season, and eventually his entire career. It may not be this way with Bouwmeester, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he just rode off into the sunset instead of risking his long-term health. The last full game Fischer played, by the way, was against St. Louis on Nov. 19, 2005.

Peverley had a procedure performed before the season in which he collapsed to correct an irregular heartbeat, and after the bench incident, he never returned to NHL action again. He was 33 when he formerly announced his retirement. Both players remained in a coaching and organizational position after they retired.

If I had to guess, Bouwmeester’s zone-clearing puck dump before he skated to the bench was his last shift of NHL action. When you take into account his age, I can’t see him returning this season or next season. You won a Stanley Cup and have helped your team get well on their way to another Cup chase this season, so retire on the horse. Maybe I’m wrong and Bouwmeester will make a miraculous return, but I doubt it.

Hopefully, his collapse will remind people of two things.

First, it shows you how sports, and especially hockey, is one big brotherhood. Unlike baseball and basketball, these players play an overly aggressive and at times volatile game on the ice. But when something serious happens to a player, they stop hitting each other and come together as one cohesive and concerned force. That was apparent on the ice lat night and in the locker room after the incident, as you can see Max Jones hugging a Blues player. They can spill blood on the ice, but in the end, they care about each other seeing tomorrow’s sunrise in one piece.

Secondly, it should reaffirm the fact that these high-paid athletes suffer the same frailty we do. As my dad would say, Bouwmeester gets up and puts his shoes on just like us every day. There needs to be blood pumping through his heart and oxygen flowing to his brain in order for him to function. As Nanea Hoffman once said, none of us are making it out of here alive, so don’t take the doctor visits and medical checkups lightly, especially as you enter your 30’s.

The good thing about a shocking incident related to a well-known athlete is that it will jolt people into getting their health in order. You better believe people are going to get their hearts checked today. Phones are going to be ringing in medical centers this morning. It’s just a human reaction, along with concern and interest in the condition. My grandfather dropped dead at 60 from a heart attack, and he was as healthy as an ox. Get it checked, folks.

It doesn’t hurt that Bouwmeester is such a likable fella. One of the few times the Blues let me in the press box, I got to speak with him. He had just played over 20 minutes, was exhausted and answered every other question, but gave me the time to answer a few more. That’s part of his contract, but being civil and kind is definitely not-so it was appreciated. Seeing him raise the Cup last summer was a signature thing because there were times when myself and others wanted to see him released or traded. He endured and won it all. I can only hope he takes the wise route and retires.

It’s not how he would have written it, but that’s life. It’s always controlling the clock and will do as it pleases. Bouwmeester can say he gave it his all, all the way down to the last second.

The lesson is the same. Don’t take tomorrow for granted. Superior athlete or normal everyday soul, your days are numbered. Thanks for reading and stay right here for more updates on Bouwmeester and the Blues.