Jim Pizzutelli has long been credited with saving Clint Malarchuk's life. Now, Winnipeg Jets forward Olli Jokinen is giving Pizzutelli credit for helping to save his career, too.
We'll get to Jokinen's utterly unique relationship with Pizzutelli in a second. But first, some background on a remarkable man:
Pizzutelli has been best known until now as the longtime Buffalo Sabres trainer — and former army medic in Vietnam — who was the first on the scene March 22, 1989 when Sabres goalie Clint Malarchuk's jugular vein was cut by an errant skate blade during a game in Buffalo.
With Malarchuk gushing huge amounts of blood on to the ice with every beat of his heart, Pizzutelli reached into the six-inch wound and pinched off the vein while the goaltender was rushed from the ice and to a nearby Buffalo hospital, where doctors would later credit Pizzutelli's quick thinking with saving the goaltender's life.W
So whatever happened to that guy? Well, it turns out Pizzutelli, who worked over 2,000 games as a trainer in the NHL in Buffalo and, later, Florida, has been very quietly living in Winnipeg the past year, serving as a full-time massage therapist with only one client — Jokinen.
"For me, I get proper treatment at home. Every night I get massages, stretch out," Jokinen said Wednesday. "It's just one more tool that I have in my tool box. If you can get a couple extra years of playing time — at the end of the day it's how you feel on the ice.
"It's helped me out a lot over the years, being able to play 80 games (a season) and not getting hurt and being fresh every day... He's got a lifetime contract."
Jokinen, who has 1,119 NHL games under his belt, has played all but six regular-season games during the past three-and-a-half seasons and has picked up his game markedly this year.
With seven goals and 12 assists in 32 games this fall, the 35-year-old has already exceeded the seven goals and 14 points he mustered in a disappointing 45 games last season.
While NHL players employing personal trainers is not unique, Jokinen believes his arrangement with Pizzutelli — he pays Pizzutelli the equivalent of an NHL trainer's salary to be at his beck and call 24 hours a day, seven days a week — is unique in pro hockey.
"I know there's a lot of basketball guys, NFL guys who do it, but I think I'm the only one in hockey so far. I haven't heard of anyone else who has their own therapist who's with them 24/7," said Jokinen, who credits the arrangement in part with his offensive resurgence this winter.
"To me, there's all kinds of these machines I see these kids (Jets teammates) put on their legs and try to flush it out. I don't even know what (the machines) are called. But a good old-school hand massage, you can't beat that...
"Obviously, I'm happy to be in a situation where I can hire a guy to be there 24/7. After a home game, you go home, you get a massage and go to bed. It's just having that extra tool so the next day you're ready to go again."
Jokinen and Pizzutelli first met in the Panthers organization in Florida, where Jokinen was a player from 2005-08 and Pizzutelli was the team's trainer. A bond was formed over the training table and when Jokinen left the Panthers in 2008 to play for the Coyotes in Phoenix, he hired Pizzutelli away from the Panthers to come work for him — and only him — in Phoenix.
Pizzutelli agreed and the two men have been inseparable ever since, moving together in tandem with Jokinen's career from Phoenix to Calgary to New York back to Calgary and now, finally, to Winnipeg.
While Pizzutelli was briefly famous for his role in saving Malarchuk, the Jets communications department said he is media shy and doesn't do interviews, so we can't tell you about his take on his relationship with Jokinen.
But we can tell you Jokinen describes a relationship that sees Pizzutelli live on his own here in Winnipeg, but spend his working life in the Jokinen home where he massages and stretches not only the Jets centre after practices and games, but also his wife and three children.
"My nine-year-old's on the table every night. She's pretty spoiled," said Jokinen.
It is an arrangement Jokinen said has long made him the envy of his teammates.
"Especially in Calgary," said Jokinen, laughing, "a lot of players wanted to come over for dinner."
Jokinen says he first got hooked on massage therapy as a player at home in Finland, where even junior teams have a staff of up to a half-dozen massage therapists to work on players daily.
Jokinen said Pizzutelli doesn't travel with the Jets, which is a perk at age 63 and after such a long career as an NHL trainer. But he's with him and his family the rest of the time.
"He knows what (my body) is doing and what needs to get done. It's good. It's been a huge help. I think besides the wife and kids, he's one of the most important people in my life," said Jokinen. "When I'm away, he's here taking care of my family and helping them out. And then at the same time, he's making sure I'll be able to play every day."
While Jokinen's physical fitness is considered exceptional, Jets defenceman Mark Stuart says it's his work ethic that allows Jokinen to stand out.
"It's just the example he sets — he works hard every day. He's usually one of the last guys out there working on stuff.
"And to be in the league this long and to continue to do that is a testament to while he's still here."
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @PaulWiecek
Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.
Updated on Thursday, December 12, 2013 at 6:59 AM CST: Replaces photo, changes headline
8:25 AM: Corrects spelling of Winnipeg