Sam Jardine is scarred, not scared. Two seasons after a skate blade nearly cut his hand’s mobility, the Ohio State men’s hockey junior defenseman sees his surgical mark as an indication he’s in the right place.
Jardine’s perspective was born after a game on Nov. 10, 2012, when the then-freshman defenseman dived to prevent a scoring chance.
Whistled for holding, Jardine immediately broke procedure. Instead of skating to the penalty box, Jardine screamed and pointed to his arm, current-senior forward Tanner Fritz said.
“I thought it was broken because the tendons were sliced,” Jardine said. “Then blood started coming and I knew I was in big trouble.”
As he turned away from the net, Jardine hunched over and writhed in pain. In an attempt to hurdle Jardine, the opposing forward had landed on Jardine’s exposed left arm between his elbow guard and glove.
The closest referee quickly grasped Jardine’s arm and within seconds, OSU’s then-trainer Chris Hite was over the boards with a towel wrapped around the cut, Jardine said.
A routine penalty had become a medical emergency. Hite had to stop the bleeding to prevent Jardine from going into shock, he said.
The 3-to-4-inch laceration had cut Jardine’s muscles, but stopped within a quarter of a millimeter of severing his radial nerve, Hite said.
Had the radial nerve been disconnected, Jardine would have lost mobility in his left hand.
“It never crossed my mind that it would be so bad that I wouldn’t be able to play hockey,” Jardine said. “That never became a reality until after the surgery.”
From the time of the injury to the conclusion of his emergency surgery, Jardine stayed calm, Hite said, who is now a trainer at Hilliard Darby High School.
“He handled it so well,” Hite said. “Not what you’d expect for a kid that had lost as much blood as he had.”
The rest of the Buckeyes were rattled. With 14 minutes remaining in the game, the OSU bench was uneasy and struggled to maintain focus, Fritz said.
Meanwhile, at the OSU Wexner Medical Center, Jardine was undergoing surgery to repair his muscle tendons. The surgery marked the beginning of his rehabilitation process.
Jardine, who had never missed a game with a hockey-related injury, was jettisoned to the sideline for nine weeks, he said.
In order to desensitize his regenerating nerve, Jardine molded Play-Doh and moved his hand through bowls of rice for resistance, Hite said.
“We had to pull the reigns on him,” Hite said. “Every day he wanted to do something more, he wanted to do something he wasn’t allowed to do.”
For a player used to playing through injuries, the mini exercises weren’t making the cut.
“They really wanted to baby the process. I didn’t really allow that to happen,” Jardine said. “I wanted to play (that) next weekend.”
At one point, Jardine approached then-associate coach Steve Rohlik about rejoining the Buckeyes and playing with a cast. Rohlik, alongside assistant coach Joe Exter, nixed the idea.
When Jardine returned to on-ice workouts, he started to realize benefits of his injury. He took the recovery time to improve his foot speed, pivoting and edges, he said.
“That was pretty important toward my development,” Jardine said. “I felt like I was a stronger skater coming back than when I had first got injured.”
The Lacombe, Alberta, Canada, native then began to realize a new appreciation for the game, he said. His experience helped him realize that one of the worst imaginable injuries was bearable.
“The appreciation of being able to put the skates on every day and go out and compete I think is the one thing he garnered from this whole situation,” Rohlik said.
Two seasons after his surgery, Jardine said he still experiences slight difficulty in the afflicted area. His injury has robbed him of full-range of motion and complete feeling in his left hand.
“I’m very thankful and very blessed that I just have a scar now and a little bit of sensitivity issues,” Jardine said. “As far as the rest of it goes, I’m 100 percent.”
On the OSU bench, trainer Jeff Deits is responsible for keeping Jardine and the rest of the Buckeyes healthy.
The training staff undergoes annual emergency action training to ensure it’s prepared for medical emergencies such as cardiac arrests and lacerations, Deits said.
Members of the OSU men’s hockey team are also given cut-proof clothing to ensure their safety. While the NCAA does not mandate its athletes wear cut-proof socks and shirts, many Buckeyes, including Jardine, wear the gear.
Jardine, who didn’t like the cut-proof shirts, wears protective socks on his forearms instead. It’s an innovation born of necessity.
As he enters his third season with the Buckeyes, Jardine said he doesn’t notice the injury anymore. The sleeve hides the scar, and his performance — like his fearlessness — never waned.