With another hockey season just around the corner TSN.ca takes a look back at the unforgettable moments of 2009-10; from Stanley Cup overtime to Canadian Olympic gold and everything in between, join us as TSN.ca revisits “Hockey's Unforgettable Moments” from the last 12 months. Game on!
It was a huge two-hander borne out of frustration, one that was clearly meant for the goalpost. Unfortunately, as he took a swing that would have impressed Albert Pujols, Florida Panthers defenceman Keith Ballard accidentally caught his own goaltender with his stick - creating one of the most unforgettable moments of the season.
It was November 30, 2009. Then-Atlanta Thrashers sniper Ilya Kovalchuk had just buried the puck behind Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun when Ballard vented his anger by swinging his stick at the net. But the 27-year-old blueliner either didn't see his own netminder standing in the way or simply miscalculated the trajectory of his swing. And even though Ballard's frustration certainly wasn't directed at Vokoun, you can believe the goalie felt it.
The 33-year-old netminder was struck on the side of the head and fell back into the net, his gloved hands wrapped around his head. He removed his helmet and rolled over in his crease, bleeding on to the blue paint. Talk about adding injury to insult.
After about 10 minutes sprawled out in front of his net, Vokoun was loaded on to a stretcher and taken off the ice to the respectful applause of the Atlanta crowd.
The chop sent Vokoun to the hospital with a lacerated ear requiring 10 stitches and costing him two games. The accidental culprit Ballard, meanwhile, stood by the bench looking on in a state of shock. The embarrassment and shame was palpable.
"It's not something I've ever done and it's not something I'll ever do again," Ballard said afterwards.
The Minnesota native was neither penalized by the league nor by his team.
"We never considered a suspension," Panthers GM Randy Sexton said after the game. "It was an accident, and (Ballard) felt terrible about it."
Had he mistakenly hit an opposing team’s goalie and caused the same injury – accidental or not - discipline from the league likely would have been forthcoming. But in this rare situation, what was the precedent?
"I've never seen anything like it," says NHL Hockey Insider Darren Dreger. "It was a great discussion point for the NHL's hockey operations guys. Can you suspend a player for whacking a teammate with a stick?"
No doubt the shame was far tougher to deal with than any suspension ever could have been.
"I just felt terrible," Ballard said afterwards. "I didn't know what to say. I don't know how many times I apologized and we talked for a bit and he came back and sat with me and we talked for a while longer. In those 15 or so minutes, I don't know how many times I apologized. Finally, he's just like, ‘Don't worry about it, it's enough.’"
For his part, Vokoun downplayed the incident, helping his teammate save some face.
"It looked a lot more scary than it really was," Vokoun said at the time. "I do have a nasty cut on my ear…it's not usual for goalies, but players get cut all the time. It's not a big deal to anybody, it's just because it was such a freak accident."
While it was a strange sight for viewers at the arena and watching on television, TSN reporter John Lu said it did remind him of a previous incident.
"The first thing I thought when I saw it was, 'Jaroslav Halak can relate.' He was gonged by his own defenceman's stick at the World Hockey Championship last year,” says Lu. “Mind you, poor Vokoun got hit with a home run swing. Halak was more of a foul tip. You have to wonder what those defencemen were possibly thinking."
The incident has spurred some hockey analysts to call for an end to the practice of defencemen recklessly slamming their sticks following a goal.
"Players who react as Ballard did never seem to get the message that they embarrass themselves beyond our comprehension, but maybe this particular bit of petulance will put a stop to it," says Dave Hodge of TSN's the Reporters. "After all, Ballard had a reason and the need to apologize to somebody - on this occasion, it wasn't a victimless act."
Ballard was humble and expressed genuine, heartfelt regret; for the most part, the hockey community showed compassion for him after what was a very unfortunate accident - a single bad-luck moment. And like many things, the passage of time turned the incident into something a little more light-hearted.
The day after the incident, TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie wrote that the Florida squad was already getting a laugh out of it.
“As soon as it became apparent Vokoun was going to be okay, it would be fair to say the Panther players are having much fun at Ballard's expense,” McKenzie wrote. “The ribbing has already begun.”
One thing is certain, now that everyone is okay and we can look back with a chuckle: Ballard's faux pas will live on in YouTube sports blooper infamy for all of eternity.
"I've smashed sticks over the cross-bar, off the post, on the ice," says TSN hockey analyst Ray Ferraro. "However, I have never seen this. It almost was funny, but only once we knew Vokoun was okay. Wherever Ballard goes in his career, this video will accompany him."
How do you remember Ballard’s unfortunate swing at his own goaltender? Should he have been suspended? Make your comments heard with the TSN.ca Your Call feature below.