RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT DOCTOR.
I hadn’t noticed it on the tape when I first replayed the interview, but second time around I could clearly hear the voice, far in the background.
“Where’s Lindsay?” the disembodied voice asked, insistently, over the noise of the Atlanta Thrashers (anyone remember them?) dressing room. “Where’s Lindsay?” The voice in the foreground of the tape belonged to Bill Lindsay, the man the voice in the background was searching for as Lindsay and I were discussing the game the Thrashers winger had just played against his former team, the Montreal Canadiens, at the Bell Centre.
The background voice belonged to the Canadiens’ longtime team doctor, Dr. Charles Mulder, a superstar in Montreal’s medical world and best known outside the city for the emergency tracheotomy that saved Habs winger Trent McLeary’s life after his larynx was shattered by a slapshot in January 2000.
Within a few hours, he would perform another emergency tracheotomy and save another hockey player’s life. Bill Lindsay’s. I was in Montreal to write about former Hamilton Bulldogs coach Claude Julien and Lindsay, who had been instrumental (10 goals in 23 playoff games) in the Bulldogs’ run to the seventh game of the Calder Cup final the previous spring.
The Canadiens had waived Lindsay out of the NHL, and sent him to Hamilton (which is also Lindsay’s middle name), where his play got the 32-yearold veteran another NHL shot with the Thrashers, who’d called him up from the Chicago Wolves a few weeks earlier.
It was a Saturday afternoon and Lindsay had been knocked out of the game by a wrist shot to the larynx by Montreal’s Frankie Bouillon, another former Bulldog. As we talked after the game, Lindsay dismissed the shot to the throat — although terrifying for about 10 seconds — as minor, nothing to worry about. He was hurrying to get dressed and get on the bus to the airport for the flight to Atlanta.
I left him after that, but Mulder didn’t. Which is why Bill Lindsay is alive today.
Mulder knew Lindsay from his parts of two seasons in Montreal, and recognized as soon as he heard his voice, that it was different than normal. He told Lindsay he wasn’t getting on any plane, and that he wanted him to take a cab to hospital for observation. When Lindsay balked, Mulder went over his head to coach Bob Hartley, and Lindsay was sent to hospital.
Rewinding the tape two days later I grew cold, hearing what Mulder heard and what I didn’t fully hear the first time. Lindsay had a raspy, hoarse voice, an intermittent cough, and occasionally he had to pause to laboriously force himself to swallow.
Tests at the hospital showed a number of fractures to Lindsay’s larynx and as he was being moved to the intensive care unit; it collapsed and he went into cardio-respiratory arrest. He stopped breathing for 90 seconds.
And Mulder, for the second time in four years, had to perform an emergency tracheotomy to save a hockey player’s life.
The Thrashers wouldn’t let Lindsay play again that season, and the following year he spent time in the ECHL, then went to Germany for two seasons before retiring.
Eventually, he became the TV colour commentator for the Florida Panthers, and is now the radio analyst as well as the leader of the Panthers’ learn-toplay-hockey programs. More than 500 of his 777 NHL games had come during his six years in Florida, and he remains one of the most popular Panthers ever.
He scored what is still considered the biggest goal in franchise history: the clincher in a five-game opening-round win over heavily favoured Boston on Florida’s improbable way to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final.
I’ve run into Lindsay periodically over the years. We have talked about that innocent interview, when he didn’t know what was to befall him over the next few hours.
Four years later, we certainly talked about it in depth. Richard Zednik of the Panthers had his throat slashed by a teammate’s skate at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo in mid-February 2008, and came perilously close to dying on the ice.
I’ll be writing about the Zednik incident later, but what you need to know now is this: high up in the visitors’ radio broadcast booth, Bill Lindsay was calling that game.
He felt his own throat tighten immediately, he told me, and, “I lost my professional cool.”
Watching Zednik stagger to the bench, Lindsay yelled into his microphone: “Gosh, help him! Help him!”
Because many people did, against all odds Zednik survived.
Just as Lindsay did, because of Dr. David Mulder.
Veteran Spectator columnist Steve Milton has pretty much seen it all in his 40 years covering sports around the world. In Being There, he relives special moments of those stories, from the inside out, every Friday. If there’s a memorable sporting event you want Steve to write about, let him know at email@example.com. Chances are he was there.
Atlanta Thrasher Bill Lindsay, 51 days before Dr. Charles Mulder savedhis life in Montreal on Jan. 3, 2004.