Clint Malarchuk is a survivor, three times over.
The former NHL goaltender survived a freak accident when a skate cut his jugular vein during a game in 1989. In 1992, he was revived after accidentally taking a lethal combination of pills and alcohol. Then in 2008, Malarchuk tried to take his own life, which he also survived, despite the bullet still being lodged in his head.
These are just some of the experiences Malarchuk has been through and the ones he shares in his book The Crazy Game: How I Survived in the Crease and Beyond. He will be at the Westlock Memorial Hall at 7 p.m. Feb. 23 to talk about these incidents and his personal struggles with mental illness, thanks to the Soul Sisters Memorial Foundation. Tickets are selling fast, but are available for $40 at the Flower Shoppe.
“I survived a suicide attempt. Basically, when you wake up with a bullet in your skull you start to reminisce, rehash, and philosophize. You basically realize that you were spared,” said Malarchuk of his inspiration for writing the book. “I think I was spared for those who still suffer.”
On March 22, 1989, Malarchuk started in goal for the Buffalo Sabres in a game against the St. Louis Blues. As two players collided in his crease, a skate blade came up and severed his carotid artery and jugular vein. It was a bloody sight to behold and Malarchuk thought he was going to die.
“I thought I had minutes to live. I was trying to wrap my mind around certain things, like get off the ice, so your mom watching back home on the satellite dish doesn’t see her son die, and start praying that you go to heaven,” he said.
Malarchuk returned to the ice only 10 days later, but it wasn’t long after that symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) started to manifest themselves.
“I think I rode that adrenaline through the season. Then in the summer all of that sort of wears off and now I’m facing the next NHL season. That’s when I started having terrible, terrible nightmares of the skate coming up and I couldn’t sleep.
“I was just grateful to be alive. I didn’t know there was a thing called PTSD. I don’t even think they had it back then. No counseling was offered and I didn’t think of counseling either, I just thought get back as quick as you can,” Malarchuk said.
That is a problem with many men who experience mental illness, he said, they hide it and don’t seek help because of the pressures placed on them by society to be manly.
“The stigma towards males is we’re supposed to be tough and not only are we supposed to be tough physically, we’re supposed to be tough mentally — never cry, never show emotion,” said Malarchuk. “That’s the mentality of a male. I was brought up with the mentality that if you get bucked off a horse, you get right back on. Why? So you don’t have time to think about it and get fearful.”
Although video of the incident is hard for him to watch to this day, Malarchuk doesn’t mind talking about it. He considers it an initiating incident for the good he has done in his life since.
“You get used to it. Watching videos of my accident or reading articles about it is a lot harder, but talking about it isn’t because I meet so many people who are still in a dark place, so it’s actually quite gratifying,” he said.
There were some dark times between now and then though, as Malarchuk dealt not only with his undiagnosed PTSD, but depression, anxiety and panic attacks as well as the obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) that he had since he was a kid. He also started drinking more and more.
Eventually, he did seek help and started taking medication, and he did really well for about 15 years, but still the PTSD was never brought up.
It wasn’t until Oct. 7, 2008, when Malarchuk tried to take his own life that he finally got the help for the PTSD that he needed. He spent six months in a rehab hospital to be treated for PTSD, OCD and alcoholism.
Since then, he has coached in the NHL for the Atlanta Thrashers and Calgary Flames, and spends much of his time at his ranch near Las Vegas.
Since 2014, he has travelled around North America in support of his book. He said he notices the stigma of mental illness is gradually fading away.
“Absolutely it’s getting better, but we still have a long ways to go,” he said “Now we are learning that this is not a weakness, it’s an affliction, and people are more understanding of it.”