Jamie Rivers:


As told to: Joe Pack

I was unrestricted and unsigned and it was getting late in my career. I pretty much knew that a one-way ticket in the NHL was not gonna come and a two-way contract was not what I was looking for. I was trying to earn a higher paycheque and going over to Europe can provide that sometimes.

I decided to play in an Austrian league and Ted Sator, who was a former St. Louis Blues coach back when I was drafted there in 1993, was the coach of a Croatian team and offered me a contract and I said,

“Why not?”

I went over there and after the first few games, my wife flew over with my kids who were on holiday for Christmas and New Years. The night before they were headed back to the United States, we played a game. On the first shift of the second period, I told my centreman, “Instead of covering your guy, just let him go. I’m gonna step up and rock him.” And the guy did just what I anticipated: he went up the middle and I drilled him. A real high-impact hit. So high that it knocked him out cold. Out cold and on the ice for a couple minutes. I didn’t really feel anything; I’ve hit guys before and a lot bigger in the NHL. But his head hit me in the sternum because his head was down – a hit which probably would have gotten me fives games and a fine now. He left the game and didn’t come back while I finished the game with an assist and we ended up winning.

We get back on the team bus and I start to feel tired. Anyone who’s known me over the course of my career knows that doesn’t just happen. Riv is never tired, especially after the game. I grabbed a pillow, laid down on the bus and I was out cold. Frank Banham asked if I was alright and I said, “Ah, I’m fine, just tired. Gotta get the family off to St. Louis tomorrow morning.”

Banham said, “Oh, ok.”

After dropping the family off at the airport, I went to my apartment to have a nap. I was tired which, again, didn’t make sense to me. When I woke up, I could barely move. So much pain, all through my body, I thought maybe I had the flu.

Banham lived next to me and came over to ask if I wanted any food.

He said, “You look terrible. You look like you’re dying.

“Maybe you want to call the trainer or go to the hospital,” he continued. I bit the bullet and called the trainer who spoke very little English but knew enough that I needed to go to the hospital. When we got there, no one spoke English, so it was like charades trying to explain what happened to me.

After ultrasounds and x-rays and lotsa stuff, the doctor told me I was bleeding internally, severely, and that they were going to have to open me up to see what was going on. There was too much blood for them to see anything.

My wife was still travelling and had been all day, trying to reach me by phone. She was traveling to St. Louis with our four kids while I was being wheeled into the operation room. The room was underground and I started to have visions of the movie Hostel. As I was talking to my wife on the phone, I was laid out on a steel table while the doctors shaved my chest area. The doctor made the motion that it was time to get off the phone and I told her, “I have to go. They’re gonna put me under so they can figure it out,” and she said, “when will I talk to you next?” I really had no idea. She’s panicking because she can’t do anything, can’t get back to me, and I’m by myself in a country where nobody speaks English.

I woke up from the operation without a stitch of clothing on me, and I’d gone in there fully clothed. Nothing on me, no wires or equipment, no blanket or pillow. I tried to get up, which hurt, and I kind of made a noise. Ten people in the room stopped, looked at me, and then came over in a rush.

I woke up from the operation without a stitch of clothing on me, and I’d gone in there fully clothed. Nothing on me, no wires or equipment, no blanket or pillow. I tried to get up, which hurt, and I kind of made a noise. Ten people in the room stopped, looked at me, and then came over in a rush.

Two weeks after that, they let me out of the hospital because I could walk on my own. I went to the rink and started getting ready for practice. In my mind I thought, “I can at least go out there and push pucks and stay involved.” The trainer started freaking out, waving his arms, and I had no idea what he was saying. Finally, one of the managers who spoke English and Croatian came in and told me to back to the hospital. I listened but nobody had told me anything.

We had a sit-down meeting with the operating doctor who told me that I had lost so much blood that during the procedure I flatlined and they couldn’t get me back.

I said, “What do you mean?”

Then I remembered all of those burn marks on my chest. The doctor told me they were zapping me with the paddles and nothing was happening. Two of the surgeons, after a minute and a half, walked away and said “We’re done.”

I flatlined for two minutes and 22 seconds. They found that my spleen had burst and the doctor said it looked like a bomb went off inside. I said, “Well, why did I wake up (the way I did)?”

He said, “The people in the room didn’t think you were alive.”

They gave me the death certificate and the doctor said, “I don’t really know what to do with this so I’m going to put it in with your stuff.”

I sat there kind of giggling because in my mind, it wasn’t real.

It was 36 hours before my wife heard anything. She was freaking out, trying to call anybody on the team, emailing people. The doctor took it upon himself to call her which, as much as he was trying to help, he probably poured a ton of gasoline on the fire by trying to explain. She thought he was telling her I was dead.

I don’t have any complaints because obviously I’m alive to tell the story. But all of that led to my retirement because there were no teams that wanted to sign me based on insurance purposes. I’m not angry about anything they did but I look like Freddy Krueger or Edward Scissorhands got a hold of me.

My friends know me as a lighthearted guy but that really messed with me. I wasn’t ready to leave the game of hockey. It was a retirement that was forced upon me and it sure would have been nice to go out on my terms.

When I came back I thought, can I get my life insurance? But in the fine print the death certificate says, “The deceased must remain deceased.”



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