Montreal Canadiens goaltender Patrick Roy sat in the trainer's room at Quebec's Le Colisée one night in the spring of 1993, his eyes fixed on a television that was showing the spectacle just outside the door. The Nordiques were manhandling the Canadiens in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series, which was tied 2-2, and if Montreal was to survive, Roy would have to carry the team. But since taking a slap shot off his right shoulder early in the second period, he had been unable to lift his arm. As a glum Roy watched two pucks zoom past his backup, Andre (Red Light) Racicot, to allow Quebec to tie the game, an attendant in the press box scurried from seat to seat, delivering the Canadiens' official statement: Roy's out for the game.
"Looks like a bruised rotator cuff," Eric Lenczner, Montreal's orthopedist, told Roy.
"Can we freeze it?" Roy asked.
"We can try."
With his shoulder numbed by two shots of an anesthetic called Marcaine (but no more mobile than it had been before), Roy came back for the third period and helped his team win the pivotal match in overtime, the second of his 10 straight sudden-death victories that magical spring. The Canadiens went on to win that series and their 24th Stanley Cup.
"Pat just wanted to win," Lenczner says of the goalie, who played in the 1994 playoffs with appendicitis. "As long as [players] know they can't do permanent damage to themselves, most push the envelope of pain. They just don't talk about it much."
Hockey players do their jobs with a stoicism that is bred to the bone—even a fractured one. For eight months a year they shut up and play, stubbornly and sometimes "borderline stupidly," as Calgary Flames captain Todd Simpson puts it, because to prattle on about pain would be to make it somehow special or even heroic instead of banal.
"There is a clear understanding that hockey is a physical and sometimes violent game," Dallas Stars general manager Bob Gainey says. "You are going to be injured." Pain may not be all that defines the NHL's corporate culture, but stitches are certainly the thread that connects the game. Tough? The only medical procedure some players fear is an autopsy.
Roy's show of grit is just one of many matter-of-fact tales plucked from the annals of the NHL. Indeed, Roy's shoulder injury barely qualifies him for Montreal's pantheon of purple hearts, which is headed by Gainey, who played Game 6 of the 1984 semifinals with one shoulder dislocated and the other separated. "We didn't have a lot of depth," Gainey says, "and I thought I could play eight or 10 minutes and kill penalties."
On March 20, 1994, Carolina Hurricanes left wing Gary Roberts, then with the Calgary Flames, had his right thumb shattered in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs when it was hit by a shot. Trainers stanched the flow of blood, and he didn't miss a shift. Between periods Roberts had the finger put in a splint, and he kept playing in the following weeks while it healed. In the playoffs that spring Roberts, who couldn't lift his right arm above his head because of an injured neck, put on a protective collar for Game 6 of the first round against the Vancouver Canucks. However, he removed it in overtime because he was having difficulty looking down and seeing loose pucks near his skates. Roberts was by far the best player in the series.