Vokoun leaves game with head injury

December 2nd, 2009 by

ATLANTA (www.sun-sentinel.com) - Keith Ballard was too devastated to talk.

He shook his head no, and walked out of the visitors’ dressing room without a word.

The Panthers’ defenseman played most of Monday’s game with the guilt of having sent his goalie to the hospital by swinging his stick in frustration and accidentally striking him in the head.

Then, when it didn’t seem Ballard’s night could get any worse, the Thrashers scored the winning goal with 5.5 seconds left when Maxim Afinogenov’s shot hit Ballard’s stick and went in.

The Panthers lost to the Thrashers 4-3 at Philips Arena, their fifth consecutive loss. Their only consolation was that goalie Tomas Vokoun would be flying home with them. Vokoun was released from St. Joseph’s Hospital after receiving stitches for a cut on the ear.

Panthers General Manager Randy Sexton said there was no internal ear damage and Vokoun wasn’t concussed. He underwent a CT scan.

“The information I got is that he was awake, coherent, clear all the way to the hospital,” Sexton said.

Vokoun was wheeled off the ice on a stretcher at 8:54 of the opening period. After Ilya Kovalchuk, who Ballard had been chasing on a breakaway, stuck in his own rebound for a goal and a 2-1 lead, Ballard went to bash his stick against the crossbar.

Instead, he inadvertently smacked Vokoun on the left side of his mask as Vokoun was getting up off the ice. Ballard then swung his stick again, apparently unaware of what happened, and nailed the right post.

As Vokoun rolled on the ice in pain, Ballard skated off into the dressing room. Teammate Bryan McCabe went in to console him and Bryan Allen soon followed. Coach Pete DeBoer tried to soothe Ballard at intermission and Sexton spoke to him privately after the game.

“I feel bad for him, but I know he feels 100 times worse than anyone,” Allen said. “His heart was in the right place. He was frustrated and sometimes our emotions get the best of us. It’s just a freak accident.

“I’ve done the same thing, break a stick on the post and I didn’t even think twice. It could have happened to me. Obviously I won’t do it again. I’m sure he won’t, either.”

Ballard played the rest of the game. Scott Clemmensen, who stopped 28 of 30 shots, filled in admirably for Vokoun and the Panthers had several scoring chances late to win. But then the Thrashers scored in transition.

“It’s certainly difficult to come back and be completely focused, I would assume,” teammate Stephen Weiss said of Ballard. “I’ve never been in that position, but I would have to think his mind was a little bit elsewhere after what happened, which is only human.”


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