There's real concern for the health of Bryan Little, who was struck in the ear by friendly fire Tuesday night at Bell MTS Place.
The Winnipeg Jets forward was treated at one hospital for a gash to the head and then transferred to another for neurological testing before spending the night under observation.
Little, who turns 32 next week, had just skated behind the New Jersey net when he was hit by a rising rocket off the stick of Nikolaj Ehlers in the third period of the Devils' 2-1 shootout win.
Little slumped to the ice holding his bloodied head and the Jets training staff rushed out to help before he was shepherded off the ice. He was taken to St. Boniface Hospital and got 25-30 stitches, then transferred to the Health Sciences Centre’s neurological unit.
"Little was alert at all times and is in good spirits (Wednesday morning)," the Jets said in a statement.
The veteran centre was playing just his seventh game after missing nine to begin the 2019-20 NHL season. He took a high hit from Minnesota Wild forward Luke Kunin in the last pre-season game, but had scored twice — including the overtime winner against the Calgary Flames at the Heritage Classic outdoors in Regina — and assisted on three others since his return.
Little played all 82 games the past two seasons, however, he had a pair of injury-filled campaigns prior to that, including a fractured vertebrae in 2015-16 and a knee injury a year later.
Winnipegger and former NHLer Jordy Douglas was watching from the press box when the scary scenario unfolded in the Devils' end with 7:26 gone in the final frame.
The worst part was Little never saw it coming, he said.
"When you're in front of the net for a screen or a deflection, there's an anticipation the puck is coming. In Bryan's case he's going by the net and he's not expecting it, so there's no way to react," said Douglas, whose six-year NHL career culminated with parts of two season (1983-85) with the Jets 1.0.
"He had no sense it was going to be four-feet wide or six-feet wide or whatever it was. He took the full brunt of that, no way he coculd get out of the way. I just cringed."
There was a palpable hush that fell over the crowd at the downtown rink. Ehlers, visibly shaken, was one of the first players to come to Little's side, and later helped his centreman get to the bench.
Eerily, just days ago the speedy winger said he hadn't experienced the overpowering emotion of seeing another player struggle on the ice in front of a stunned, silent crowd. He was reacting to a head-to-head collision between Boston Bruins forward David Backes and Ottawa's Scott Sabourin last weekend that knocked out the Senators forward. Sabourin left on a stretcher and is being treated for a concussion, broken nose, cuts and bruises.
"I don't remember being in that situation. I hope I never will be," Ehlers said Monday.
The Jets endured a couple of strange injuries earlier in the season, including one directly inflicted by a teammate. Blue-liner Josh Morrissey was accidentally bumped by Anthony Bitetto in the warm-up in New York on Oct. 6 and had to miss the game with the Islanders plus a contest two nights later in Pittsburgh.
At the Heritage Classic, Mason Appleton broke a foot bone while tossing a football with Kyle Connor and Andrew Copp, among others, at Mosaic Stadium.
Just two days later, Patrik Laine collided with Luca Sbisa at practice in Anaheim. Laine missed two games, although Jets head coach Paul Maurice said the lower-body injury was present well before the teammates ran into each other.
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).