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Thunderbirds player narrowly avoids serious injury during playoff game

There was one member of the T-Birds who suffered an injury in Game 1 that could have been a lot worse.
Published: Jun. 7, 2022 at 6:15 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 7, 2022 at 6:58 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - After splitting the first two games of the AHL Eastern Conference Finals at home, the Springfield Thunderbirds are now on the road. The team arrived in Canada on Monday as they prepare for Wednesday’s Game 3 against the Laval Rocket.

There was one member of the T-Birds who suffered an injury in Game 1 that could have been a lot worse.

“It’s not something I’ve ever seen happen before and it’s not something that you’re even really thinking about,” said Thunderbirds defenseman Luke Witkowski.

Early on in Game 1 of the AHL Eastern Conference Finals, Witkowski suffered a freak injury that was close to being life threatening.

“It kind of all happened in slow motion. As I’m pushing, the guy’s stick breaks in half and I’m seeing it go right into my neck and immediately, I’m thinking this could be pretty bad,” Witkowski explained.

This photo shows the broken stick that injured Luke Witkowski
This photo shows the broken stick that injured Luke Witkowski(Luke Witkowski)

That piece of hockey stick was lodged in Witkowski’s neck. He said he initially wanted to return to the game, but things quickly took a turn.

“I didn’t take it very seriously until the doctor in the trauma room told me how close it was to the carotid artery,” Witkowski added.

Witkowski shared his CT scan image with Western Mass News. The black dot in the middle of the circle is the cut. The white circle next to it is the carotid artery. While that could have resulted in a much more serious injury, the 10-year pro said it’s not a situation that weighs on players’ minds.

The black dot shows the injury to Luke Witkowski's neck, with the white dot next to it being...
The black dot shows the injury to Luke Witkowski's neck, with the white dot next to it being his carotid artery(Luke Witkowski)

“You ask any one of the guys and it’s not something you think about on a shift-to-shift basis,” Witkowski noted.

Witkowski said he wanted to suit up the next night for Game 2, but coaches kept him out. He says he expects to play Wednesday night for Game 3 and hopes to keep Springfield’s first post-season run on the right track.

“I’ve been on good teams, but you look up and down this lineup and there’s no flaws on this team. We’ve got good goalies, good defensemen, four lines that can roll,” Witkowski said.

The Thunderbirds best-of-seven series continues Wednesday night in Laval, Canada. The Rocket hosts Games 3, 4, and 5. If neither team sweeps up north, they’ll be back for Game 6 at the MassMutual Center next Monday night. If needed, Game 7 is set for next Wednesday night in Springfield.