When Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens was stretchered off the ice following that Zdeno Chara stanchion run, his life changed. Not only because of the injury and the controversy, but also because of the bonds he forged during his recovery.
Eleven months ago, Pacioretty was hospitalized with a concussion and a broken neck at Montreal General.
At the same time, a teenage boy that was critically injured in a car crash had just emerged from a 3-week coma. His parents were convinced he'd never talk again.
Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette has the rest of this remarkable tale, via Pacioretty's wife Katia:
"Max and I were in a lounge when the boy's father came in and said, 'You're Max Pacioretty. My son's just come out of a coma, can you come and meet him?'"
Pacioretty quickly returned to his room and gathered up his Canadiens sweats and a few other team items as gifts. When he arrived at the boy's room, he discovered a huge fan, Habs souvenirs everywhere.
"He couldn't talk, he was connected to the biggest tube," Katia recalled of the teen. "He'd just awakened from a coma and now we walk in. Max put all the stuff on the bed and said, 'Hey, buddy, I'm Max Pacioretty.'
"The boy opened his eyes and just said, 'Oh, crap.' Everyone started crying — nurses, his parents, us. It was amazing."
According to Stubbs, the boy walked into a Canadiens community event eight months later — wearing a Pacioretty jersey.
Pacioretty's life was profoundly changed by his experiences post-injury. Last November, he launched the Max Pacioretty Foundation, which is an initiative to give a $3.5-million Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine to Montreal General's Traumatic Brain Injury Centre; as well as a way to raise awareness of hockey-related head injuries.
"A lot of that time spent in my bed wondering if I would ever play again made me realize what's important in life," Pacioretty said Monday after a press conference at the Canadiens suburban practice facility. "It's rewarding to score a goal or have a great game, but even more so to help someone's life. That's why I want to be so hands-on with this."
But beyond his new-found philanthropy, Pacioretty told Stubbs his experiences have refocused his priorities, thanks in part to the boy he inspired:
"I took five minutes in the hospital to see a boy just out of a coma and now he's a fan of mine, wearing my jersey," Pacioretty said. "It's hard to find words to say what that means to me. When things get hard in hockey, I just think about what that boy has gone through."
Much more here at the Gazette. There hasn't been a lot of sunshine this season for the Habs. This story, and the fact that Pacorietty is on pace his most productive offensive season, provides a glimmer.