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As the hockey season reaches March, the intensity builds, the opinion of fans and observers become more strident and rigid, and anxiety levels reach new heights.  At those times, it seems that the NHL is the most important thing in the world.  But it isn’t.  Not even close.  Lest we forget that fact, fate has a funny way of reminding us.

Such was the case tonight in Dallas, when Stars forward Rich Peverly, 31, collapsed on the bench at the 6:34 mark of the first period.  Players and coaches frantically tried to gain the attention of on-ice officials to stop the game, while medical personnel came out of the stands to tend to the stricken player.  Blue Jacket’ broadcaster Jody Shelley was stationed in between the benches, and was obviously shaken by the unfolding events.  Peverly, apparently unconscious, was whisked down the tunnel, the curtain was shut, and the vigil commenced.  Toronto took control of the proceedings, and after a long delay, players and officials were ushered off the ice.  Soon . . . but not soon enough . . . word came that Peverly was conscious, responsive and was being transported to the hospital. The relief on the faces in the crowd was palpable.

Shortly thereafter, Blue Jackets President of Hockey Operations John Davidson announced that the NHL had elected to postpone the game to a future date to be determined.  Understandably, players from both sides were seriously shaken, and the decision was the rational one, even considering the potential schedule and playoff complications.  Both clubs have Tuesday games — Columbus at home vs. Detroit, and Dallas in St. Louis — meaning that both faced significant flights.  The emotional considerations aside, given warmup time and the like, the game would have lasted into the east of midnight realm.  Good decision.

Peverly was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation during training camp this season, and missed three weeks in September and early October, after undergoing a procedure to restore normal cardiac rhythm.  It was unknown whether his collapse was related to that condition, but those reporting the incident seemed to assume that it was.  A later statement from the Dallas organization noted only that Peverly “was successfully treated for a cardiac event.”  Atrial fibrillation is a very common cardiac arrhythmia, but is capable of having serious complications.

Watching the scene unfold, with the eerie silence and stone-faced observers, I was immediately reminded of a Saturday night in October 2010, when Blue Jackets’ defenseman Will Weber, then playing for the Miami University Redhawks, was slashed across the throat by an errant skate in a game against Northern Michigan.  The transformation of a raucous crowd to total silence was instantaneous and chilling.  The looks on the faces of the students that night had that same disbelieving quality I saw on the TV screen tonight.  Weber ended up having 100 stitches and 15 staples, but obviously recovered fully, and we all hope the same for Peverly.

On the hockey side of things, the Blue Jackets held a  1 – 0 lead at the time play was called, with Nathan Horton notching a power play goal, ending a scoreless streak that had started to wear on him.  Matt Calvert and James WIsniewski had the assists.  Columbus echoed last week’s effort at home against the Stars, skating hard, carrying the play, and out shooting the home club 9 – 4.

For now, it’s not known when, where or how the game will be re-set.  We don’t know if it will pick up where it left off, or will start over.  The schedule makers will have fits finding a date, since the closest Columbus gets to Texas is the season-ending pair in Florida.  Dallas comes to Pennsylvania later in the month, but is already scheduled to play every other night, as are virtually all of the clubs in the wake of the Olympic break.  It might well be one of those “play it if necessary” games at the end of the season.

That will all be sorted out in time, but those details pale in comparison to the ordeal of Rich Peverly and his family.  All of our thoughts and prayers are with them.  Hopefully, he’ll recover fully and this will amount to nothing more than a tap on the shoulder from Fate, reminding us to keep things in perspective.  Lesson learned.