“I really didn’t understand what happened,” DeBoer said
Florida defenseman Keith Ballard had accidentally whacked
Vokoun with his stick, cutting the goalie’s ear during an act of frustration
after Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk scored. Ballard was aiming for the goal, but
instead got a piece of Vokoun’s head.
Vokoun was carted off the ice on a stretcher and taken to
an Atlanta-area hospital. Vokoun needed several stitches, but traveled with the
team back to South Florida. Immediately after the incident, however, Ballard
looked like he could have used a Prozac.
ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose called the incident
“maybe the stupidest thing I’ve seen in my life.”
Ballard, who was visibly shaken after the incident, will
not be disciplined for his errant swipe, the team said Tuesday. He spoke with
Vokoun and his teammates on the Panthers’ return flight Monday night, DeBoer
said, and no “hard feelings” linger.
“It was a heat of the moment play,” DeBoer said. “It’s
not how you want to handle your frustrations. I’m sure Keith Ballard will never
do it again.”
NHL spokesman Frank Brown said in an e-mail that
“supplemental discipline” is assessed for actions that are taken against
opponents — meaning Ballard would have possibly been fined or suspended had he
lashed out in anger and accidentally struck a member of the Thrashers.
“But it wasn’t against an opponent,” Brown said.
Aside from a sore ear, it appears Vokoun has no other
medical problems. He didn’t suffer any internal ear damage from the blow and
there were no neurological issues, the team said. The Panthers, already without
stars David Booth (concussion) and Cory Stillman (knee), hope to have Vokoun
back in the lineup as soon as they can get a helmet over his stitched-up ear.
The incident occurred after Kovalchuk’s scored a goal at
8:54 of the first period, knocking in his own rebound. Ballard then swung his
stick toward the net after the goal, Vokoun dropped down, hands on head, and
play stalled for about 10 minutes.
“The message to everybody out there is that’s not how we
want to handle things,” DeBoer said.
Ballard was not available Tuesday as the Panthers had
the day off. Florida has a morning skate on Wednesday before playing Colorado
A message left with Ballard’s agent was not immediately
Ballard’s former coach at the University of Minnesota
said he knows that nobody feels worse about that happened than Ballard.
“I feel sick for Keith because I know the type of person
(he is),” said Don Lucia.
Ballard is an unassuming, 208-pound defenseman who plays
the game with passion and carries himself with a team-first mentality, Lucia
said. The hardworking Minnesotan is also often available to speak with
reporters, but didn’t after Monday’s game.
“There’s no pretense, there’s no arrogance, there’s no
cockiness at all,” Lucia said. “He comes from the Minnesotan border from parents
who are great people … This one incident shouldn’t impact him as a player and
a person in a negative way. Something that was so unintentional. Because I’d
take a team of Keith Ballards any day.”
Ballard’s ill-advised act is the second notable fluke
injury for the Panthers in two years. During a Feb. 10, 2008, game in Buffalo,
former Florida foward Richard Zednik’s neck was sliced with a teammate’s skate
blade. He lost five pints of blood and underwent emergency surgery.
Vokoun’s injury, though, is more reminiscent of a
incident with the Rangers in 1979, when New York defenseman Dave Maloney hit
goalie John Davidson with a stick, causing a leg injury that left Davidson
sidelined for a few games.
“It’s just something that happens,” said Davidson, now
the team president of the St. Louis Blues. “But there’s still things that can be
Davidson said the incident is a reminder about the
importance of controlling emotions for players, and said Ballard shouldn’t face
a suspension because of the injury, calling that idea “way above and beyond.”
“Maybe Keith can take (Vokoun) to dinner once he feels
better,” he said.