The night Rich Peverley's life changed forever

DALLAS -- Not long after her husband nearly died on the Dallas Stars' bench, Nathalie Peverley wrote a note to head coach Lindy Ruff.

On March 10, 2014, Ruff was with Rich Peverley every second from the moment his lifeless body was carried off the bench to a nearby hallway, where he was revived by doctors and paramedics after his heart rate flatlined for approximately two minutes.

Ruff's voice was one of the first voices Peverley heard as he regained consciousness, and Nathalie believes to this day the coach played a vital role in helping her husband survive.

At its basic level, it's a thank-you note. Thank you for being there, for being strong, for helping avert tragedy. It's a thank-you to the broader Stars family, who responded with professionalism and courage when confronted by something terrifying.

That note remains pinned to the bulletin board at Ruff's desk in the team's practice facility in Frisco, Texas.

Ruff's voice falters occasionally when talking about that night, recalling the moments when he wondered if they had lost Rich Peverley for good and the almost unspeakable feelings of joy when Peverley returned to consciousness in that hallway and asked why everyone was standing around and if he could get back in the game.

"When I get pissed off about hockey, I just read that letter," Ruff said, pausing again. "It brings me back to normal."

Peverley, now 33, still looks like he could play. He's had a clean bill of health for 22 months.

"No issues. I work out probably as hard as I did when I was playing," Peverley said during a long conversation at a Dallas-area hotel.

Rich, Nathalie and their three children -- his youngest daughter was born after the incident -- now live in the couple's hometown of Guelph, Ontario. But they returned recently to Dallas for a couple of days to help promote Peverley's heart-awareness initiative, Pevs Protects.

In conjunction with heart-health groups in Canada and the United States, Peverley is working to raise funds to put automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in communities and, perhaps as important, ensure that people know how to use them.

And so this visit stands as a celebration and a reminder of that fine line that separates us all from the unthinkable.

Peverley had been diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat earlier in the 2013-14 season, but medication allowed him to get back into the lineup. But just six minutes into the Stars' game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Peverley completed a shift and collapsed, slumping onto Jamie Benn's lap.

Longtime teammate and close friend Tyler Seguin was playing on a line with Peverley that night and was sitting one player away.

"It kind of just looked like he'd broke his legs," Seguin said. "It was just weird, [he] kind of just fell down.

"And everyone was, I wouldn't call it panicking, guys were just doing their own thing, and I remember I was slamming my stick. I actually think I threw a water bottle on the ice or something. Everyone just wanted to stop the play. We didn't know exactly what was going on. And then more of the details were scary. Just seeing him go off [the ice]. Crazy night."

Stars head trainer Dave Zeis was standing almost directly behind Peverley. Within seconds, Zeis and Dr. William Robertson, who had been sitting three rows behind the Stars' bench, grabbed Peverley and whisked him down the hallway from the bench, closing a dividing door behind them. Two other team-affiliated doctors, Dr. Robert Dimeff and Dr. Gil Salazar, along with a nurse who happened to be sitting behind Robertson, formed an ad hoc medical team in the makeshift triage unit in the hallway.

Thirteen seconds elapsed from the moment Peverley collapsed on the bench to the moment medical staff began working on him in the hallway.

In moments like these, time is elastic. What took seconds seemed like minutes. For others, it was as though time stopped entirely even as the doctors, paramedics and a nurse worked feverishly to restore Peverley's heartbeat.

"It was, in the nicest way, organized chaos," said associate athletic trainer Craig Lowry, who had summoned paramedics. "They knew exactly what they were doing. Those guys are phenomenal. They were barking orders. They were putting directions here doing this, doing that.

"Everyone knew what was going on. It seemed like it was loud, but it wasn't because you could hear everything and no one asked a second time."

As the doctors worked to restore Peverley's heartbeat, Ruff began to weep.

"I looked at him, I just thought this isn't, this isn't good," Ruff said. "It was gut-wrenching."

And then, with one jolt from the defibrillator, Peverley was back.

"His first question was really a hockey question," Ruff said. Something about how much time was left in the first, could he go back in. "I almost started crying again. Just out of joy."

For Peverley, it is as though it happened to someone else.

"I remember like putting my head on my glove," he said. "And then nothing."

He's watched the video of the incident once or twice.

"But you don't really see anything in the video," Peverley said. "You really don't. It's not like it's focused on me and you see me collapse. All you really see is chaos."

There was no pain, nothing. Nothing until he regained consciousness.

"I just wanted to breathe," Peverley said, who recalled being very hot when he regained consciousness. "I wanted space."

By that time, Nathalie and their daughter were in the hallway, having quickly descended from their seats where they'd been watching the game with Peverley's brother-in-law and nephew.

"And then seeing my wife's face," Peverley said. "She was white."

Peverley wanted very much for things to return to normal as quickly as possible.

"For me it's like, I hate to say this, but it's like it never really happened," Peverley said. "I had to deal with the emotions and everything, the aftermath. But, you know, I didn't deal with the fact that I could have died in front of people."

To this day, he wishes the game would have resumed, as though everything that had transpired on the bench and in that hallway could have been erased.

"Because I wanted people to move on," Peverley added. "Right after it happened, I just remember thinking to myself, I don't want people to feel bad for me. It happened, but I'm fine now. Just move on and pretend like nothing happened."

But for Peverley and his teammates, normal had become relative. As soon as he saw that Peverley was out of mortal danger, Ruff returned to his team.

"I went back to the bench, and I told the players that he's going to be OK," Ruff said. "And then after that I remember going back into the dressing room and talking to players and there wasn't a player that wanted to play hockey anymore."

One of Peverley's teammates was taken to a hospital, suffering from shock.

On Saturday night in Dallas, those grim moments were recalled during an enthusiastic pregame ceremony at American Airlines Center. It was a reminder that March 10, 2014, marked an ending of sorts and a beginning of something else.

If Peverley's soul was still the soul of a hockey player, his heart was not. After weeks of working out and consulting with family, doctors and team officials, it became clear that he would not play again in the NHL. The risks were just too great. Stars general manager Jim Nill told Peverley that if he wanted a place with the Stars, they would welcome him.

Peverley is not a man in conflict. Not at all.

He has more than made his peace with moving on from a playing career cut short and loves his new duties working with the Stars' young prospects in North America and Europe. He does not seek the limelight in the least but has embraced the idea that his experience might serve some greater good, which led to Pevs Protects.

He has heard from people whose families were not so lucky.

Incidents where a defibrillator was in place but bystanders were too overcome by the nature of the moment to operate it.

One of the first families he heard from was that of 14-year-old Patrick Schoonover, who died in Minnesota after a cardiac episode during a hockey game.

Through his foundation, media interviews and normal conversations of life, Peverley is never fully removed from the night his life changed forever. But he is not consumed with the wondering about what if things had been different that night.

"I think about how lucky I am that the doctors knew how have to proper training in case of an emergency," Peverley said. "And they eventually saved my life, the doctors and the trainers for our staff. I think about that."

Sometimes, though, when he is with his three children, watching them swarm around as they are on this day in Dallas, piling up books and chattering away in the hotel, Peverley peeks into that small part of his being and considers the alternatives.

"I think sometimes when I have my kids around and sometimes I'll think about it, if they didn't have a father," he said. "I do think about that sometimes."

And then the moment passes, because that's the good thing about life and being alive, there's always something more important to keep your mind off what might have been.