No job in the world of sports is as intimidating, exhilarating, and stress-ridden as that of a hockey goaltender. Clint Malarchuk did that job while suffering high anxiety, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder and had his career nearly literally cut short by a skate across his neck, to date the most gruesome injury hockey has ever seen. This autobiography takes readers deep into the troubled mind of Malarchuk, the former NHL goaltender for the Quebec Nordiques, the Washington Capitals, and the Buffalo Sabres. When his carotid artery was slashed during a collision in the crease, Malarchuk nearly died on the ice. Forever changed, he struggled deeply with depression and a dependence on alcohol, which nearly cost him his life and left a bullet in his head. In A Matter of Inches, Malarchuk reflects on his past as he looks forward to the future, every day grateful to have cheated death—twice.
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About the Author
Clint Malarchuk was a goaltender with the Quebec Nordiques, Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres. Originally from Grande Prairie, Alberta, Malarchuk now divides his time between Calgary, where he is the goaltender coach for the Calgary Flames, and his ranch in Nevada. Dan Robson is a senior writer at Sportsnet Magazine. He lives in Toronto.
Read an Excerpt
The Crazy Game
The puck drops and you're transfixed. You don't hear the crowd, just a buzz that rises and falls. You hunt for a black disc. The black disc cannot pass. It shall not pass. It moves like a laser. Here ... there. Up ... where? Down ... there ... there! Where? Shit! Where? Shit — there! This is the point of the game. The game is the point of life. Now the puck is on the point — or was on the point — and if you don't find it fast, find it now, it will cross a line from which you cannot bring things back. And your ass is on that thin red line, backed deep in the crease behind a wall of players who can't clear a path to the puck.
Then you hear the snap. Airborne. Incoming. Your synapses fire. Einstein couldn't calculate the shit flashing through your brain right now. Screw physics — you're giving sight to the blind. You reach out with faith in me-almighty and feel the weight of the world in your hand.
The buzz becomes a cheer. The referee lifts the puck from your glove. Your teammates tap your pads. You nod. You twitch. Check your straps. Clank the posts with your stick — centre yourself — and push out towards the circle. You crouch. You blink. The puck drops and you're transfixed.
Crazy — that's the word they always use to describe us. "You have to be crazy to be a goalie." Of course it's true. Standing in front of a hundred-mile-an-hour slapshot? Crazy. Having the outcome of every game rest on your shoulders? Crazy. Defending the net against Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux or Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin? Crazy.
Yes, you have to be crazy to be a goalie. It's the first rule. Watch closely during a game. Each has their own idiosyncrasies. No two are the same. Consider every perfectly adjusted strap, every twitch, every tantrum — they are all trying to cope. Goaltending is the most complicated, pressure-packed position in sport. A quarterback or a pitcher may be the closest to understanding the stress a goalie is under, but even they can't grasp the madness of the position. Why are goalies such unique personalities? It's the pressure. The physical, mental and emotional stress goalies face is incomparable. Does a person become unique under the pressure, or is a unique person drawn to the pressure? It has to be a little of both.
Look at modern keepers like Ilya Bryzgalov and his musings about the universe, or a legend like Patrick Roy, who used to talk to his posts. Or go back further to the infamously surly Terry Sawchuk, or Glenn Hall, who tossed his cookies before each game. They even played without masks until Jacques Plante's face exploded and he had the sense to protect it.
When I was a kid, Plante's book On Goaltending was my bible. I practically memorized every word. It was filled with exercises and drills that I did religiously. I trained like a madman. I remember running up and down the basement stairs — up and down, up and down, up and down, endlessly.
For me, from the start, it was an obsession. I had to be the best, and being the best meant perfection. I had to train, train, train or someone else would live my dream. I think every goalie understands obsession to a certain degree. But Plante didn't mention that in his book. I guess I learned about it on my own.
Crazy — I hate the word. It's haunted me since I was a kid. The truth is that I've been so many different kinds of crazy that its limitations insult me. Crazy is too simple a word to describe me. Throughout my career, I teetered on the edge of normal, even though my teammates would say I was the most ordinary goalie in the world. In public, things were fine. I was a clown in the locker room, always the centre of attention. But I was kidding myself the whole time. People like me are natural actors. And all shows end eventually.
Mental illness isn't something people like to discuss. Especially not in professional sports, where the only wounds that matter are physical. The rest is just weakness. But I've suffered from mental illness my entire life. I've battled debilitating bouts with anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression. It was like I had jugs of gasoline poured all over me, waiting for the spark to ignite. I did my best to hide it, until it all came blazing out.
My kind of crazy let me live a dream — then took it away and put a bullet in my head. For most of you, my story begins on the evening of March 22, 1989, a regular-season hockey game between the St. Louis Blues and Buffalo Sabres. It was a routine play, just a minor collision. Then I grabbed my throat and felt the red warmth spray through my fingers.
Millions watched me bleed out that night. This is about the rest of me.
The rifle fired — a violent crack, and then ringing. I didn't expect the sudden deafness. It was dark and I could see only a silhouette outlined by the afternoon sun outside the silo doorway. The bear grunted and slumped.
I was a good four miles from help. There was nothing around, just green fields and pine trees and emptiness. If I could get to the pickup truck, I'd be fine. But the bear's big black body slouched in the small frame, blocking the door. I was only fourteen, but I'd worked at the ranch long enough to know that a motionless bear doesn't necessarily mean a dead one.
I lowered the .30-30 rifle to reload. Thank God I have this gun. But the bullet jammed when I cranked the lever, and I fumbled around until it fell into place. I'd handled a gun before, but this was the first time a bear had me cornered in a silo.
Crack. I shot him again.
Crack. Reloaded. I shot him four or five more times. Filled him full of holes; filled him good and dead. I shuffled forward and jabbed him with the gun. He didn't move. Blood pooled around his head. I climbed over his hot, bloody bulk to get outside. I got in the truck and drove like hell.
I've always thought of Grande Prairie, Alberta, as home. My family lived in the small town, about six hours northwest of Edmonton, for the first six years of my life. And I spent every summer of my youth there after we left for Edmonton when Dad got a sales job in the city. All of my uncles and aunts lived there. I stayed with my grandmother, who was sweet and grey and spoiled me. It's where I learned to skate and play hockey. It's also where I first learned to kill. Aside from the hockey rink, it was the only place where I really found peace as a kid.
When I was ten, I started working on the ranch with my cousin and her husband. His name was Bill Finch, and he owned the ranch with his father and two brothers. They were typical cowboys — all scruff and grit and chew — probably in their late twenties. I wanted desperately to be like them. We stayed in a single-wide trailer on an enormous property that stretched for miles of hills and pine trees and rivers. We did all kinds of things at the ranch. They had cattle and horses and sheep and pigs. They also had beef cattle, and sometimes we'd ride through the fields corralling them. They had about five hundred head. I loved riding the horses. I could go as fast as I wanted and never run out of land.
Wolves and coyotes were a real problem. When a cow was calving, you had to be up all night to make sure nothing got to the calf before you did. I saw a lot of dead ones after the coyotes were done with them. We'd milk the dairy cows twice a day. Some of them we'd do by hand because they didn't give to the machines. Each time, we'd dump the white pails of milk into a machine to separate the cream, which we sold. It was my job to carry the excess milk in big buckets across the barnyard to feed the pigs. I'd do shoulder shrugs as I went, packing some muscle onto my skinny frame.
The guys on the ranch knew I was tough. They liked to put me to the test. We'd work crazy hours, in the barn by four-thirty in the morning and sometimes still out baling hay well after midnight. We worked by the light of our tractors.
Of all the animals there, the bulls were the most dangerous. I watched the ranch hands try to offload the biggest bull I'd ever seen in my life. He must have been two and a half tonnes. They had two-by-six planks along the ramp, trying to guide him down into a pen. He didn't want to go. Next thing you know, he freaked out and started thrashing around, and the planks snapped into pieces and exploded in the air.
One time in the pasture, the Finch brothers tried to load a two-thousand-pound Black Angus bull onto a cattle liner. They had it roped up and they tried to pull it up a ramp onto the truck. Bill told me to get off my horse and give the bull a good smack on the ass to move him along.
"We've got him tight. He can't get away."
So I smacked him hard, as I was told, but they all let go of the ropes. The bull charged at me. I barely made it to the trees before the damn thing ran me over.
The Finch brothers were big rodeo guys, so they taught me how to ride. I loved the sport of it: hanging on and falling off and getting on and falling off and hanging on. I got bucked off the first time I tried it, and I was hooked. It didn't really hurt that much. I just had a few bruises — a sprained wrist here, a twisted ankle there. Rodeo is about competition — man versus beast. It's a rush. It's about still hanging on when you have no business being able to.
I had an uncle and cousin who had a farm up there, too. Tim, my cousin, was my age. He was my best friend back then. My uncle Ed, his dad, was a rugged woodsman. He killed a lot of bears. One time, he was building a house on land about an hour outside of Grande Prairie — I mean, we're talking the middle of nowhere. He lived in this old gutted-out school bus. He piled up bales of hay for heat. The motor was gone and there was plywood where the engine should have been. I loved living in that old rotting bus. It was just the wild and us.
This one night, a bear came sniffing around, looking for food. We heard him clawing at the bus. My uncle sat up in his cot and saw the bear standing on the plywood by the windshield. Without even getting up, he reached under the bed, pulled out a rifle and shot him through the glass.
"You kids don't go out there in the morning," he said. "We have to make sure he's dead." For me, it was a huge deal. For Uncle Ed, it was routine — he went right back to sleep. The next day, we cut off the bear's hide and cooked the meat. I could smell the bear on me for days.
I was twelve when I killed for the first time. We slaughtered cattle once a week and did all the cutting and wrapping ourselves. The father of the Finch brothers was the butcher. He'd lost a finger in the slaughterhouse. He was tough — a real cowboy. I wanted to be like him, and I was eager to impress.
They had the steer in this rigged-up pen. One of the guys shot him in the head with a .22. Another pulled a lever that dropped the bottom of the pen down on a slant. The cow slid out onto the floor, flailing his legs like he was trying to run away. I stood next to the trap door holding a large knife, because that's what they'd told me to do. The steer fell onto me and took out my legs. I landed half on top of him and half mixed up in his fighting hooves. They thought it was hilarious. I thought it was funny, too. I was just lucky I didn't land on that goddamn knife.
I fell off and took a few more kicks from the steer as I got up. Then I bent over, gripped the knife and opened his throat. He kept kicking as he bled out. One of the Finch men sliced both of his hind legs between the bone and the Achilles tendon. They put these big hooks in there and hoisted him up. He hung, stretched out, as the blood drained. We skinned him and used electric chainsaws to cut out his ribs. His guts flew, and we tied them up in his hide like it was a garbage bag.
I took the whole thing well, so the guys liked me. It was considered a rite of passage.
After that, my job was to shoot the steer or cut its throat. Done right, the process from bullet to blade to hook took about eight seconds. The guts went to this remote part of the ranch we called the "gut dump," where black bears always hid, waiting for food. After my first, I probably killed a dozen. I used to shoot bears like gophers.
Doctors always want to know about the past, but i've always tried to avoid mine. From the start, I was taught to cowboy up and move on. I thought that rehashing old things was senseless. Everyone has messed-up stories about their upbringing. Why would anyone care about mine? It's always the same, it seems. The first person doctors want to know about is my dad — the daddy issues — so let's start with him.
Mike Malarchuk was a good man. He was a salesman for Nabob coffee. He moved our family from Grande Prairie to Edmonton to work out of the office there. We lived in a white bungalow at 8112 163 Street in Elmwood, the west end of the city. It had a carport where he parked our family's Buick and a backyard roughly the size of two boxing rings. There was a big field behind our house that belonged to Elmwood Elementary School. It had a couple baseball diamonds. He coached my older brother Garth's Little League team. I used to watch from the bleachers.
Dad was an athlete. He wasn't big. I'm taller than he was. But he was strong and muscular. He was a hard worker. Everyone who knew him, all my uncles, said he was one of the best athletes in the Peace Country region of Alberta where he grew up. He was a star baseball player. He was a goalie too, and a damn good one. He played in the senior leagues, which were kind of like semi-pro way back then. He had a big, bent nose because he wore no mask. He was a really tough guy who boxed a bit as well. He taught me how to fight in our backyard. He taught me how to be strong. "If you get hurt, don't lie on the ice," he'd say. "Skate to the bench. Work hard."
Most memories of my dad involve sports. Mike Malarchuk was the kind of father who lived at the rink with his sons. Hockey was the most important part of our life. He was a timekeeper at my games when I was young. He'd come watch me play for hours on the outdoor rink near our house in the freezing Edmonton winters. Back then, we mostly played outdoors, even in organized league games. Playing indoors was a big-time reward. When I was a mite — probably nine years old — Dad was the manager of my team. On Saturday mornings, we had indoor ice out at the Enoch Cree reserve. We'd get up at four in the morning and climb into our old Gran Torino and drive through the freezing dark. We'd be on the ice at five-thirty, but often we'd have to go and wake up the rink manager, who lived next door, so he could let us in.
The Enoch arena was so cold it might as well have been outside, but those practices always felt special. It was the highlight of the week. After practice, I'd go home and watch a half-hour or so of Saturday morning cartoons — always Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner — on our black-and-white television in the basement. Dad had finished the basement himself — he was handy. There was a bedroom for my brother, Garth, a bathroom and the TV area, which was all carpeted. One of my earliest memories, when I was really young and small, is of falling asleep on my dad's chest while he lay on the coach and watched that old black-and-white TV. He had a toothpick in his mouth. I curled up into him and dreamed.
On those Saturday mornings, after practice and cartoons, I'd pull on my jeans and a heavy sweater and bundle up in my winter jacket. I had this huge old pair of gloves that were so ripped that my fingers came through. I'd put a smaller pair of gloves beneath them so I could grip my stick and still be warm. I thought that was great. The fingers would flop around because the gloves were so worn out. Then I'd tie up my skates and head to the rink out past the schoolyard behind our house. The ice had painted lines. It was smaller than a regular rink but had boards and was big enough for five-on-five shinny. There was no refrigeration system. The quality of the ice depended on the weather and the work of the attendant assigned to scrape it down each day. It had a chain-link fence on top of the boards — nothing fancy, but to us, it was Maple Leaf Gardens or the Montreal Forum. I'd be there by nine in the morning and play shinny with the neighbourhood kids all day. We didn't have goalies, so I played out. Sometimes Dad would come and stand out in the cold, just because hockey was what we did. It was us.
At dinner, around five, I'd walk across the snow-covered field in my skates, and when I got to our back door my mom would lay down towels on the kitchen floor and I'd shuffle on my hands and knees to the table. Then I'd shuffle back and be off across the field. I'd stay out there so long that they would turn the lights out on me. It'd be about ten at night. There was a man who took care of the ice — he'd drag out a hose to flood it down and I'd help him. "Don't you have to be home?" he'd ask me.
Excerpted from "A Matter of Inches"
Copyright © 2017 Clint Malarchuk.
Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 The Crazy Game 1
2 Slaughterhouse 4
3 Shattered Glass 8
4 Wobblebottom 14
5 Stomach Pains 21
6 Empty Bottles 24
7 Butterfly 32
8 A Strong Defense 41
9 Training Camp 45
10 Hitched 52
11 A Fighting Chance 57
12 Traded 67
13 Capital Crimes 77
14 Jugular 84
15 Night Terrors 92
16 Whiskey and Pills 102
17 Can't Do This 114
18 Sin City 120
19 Dad 129
20 Retired 132
21 East 140
22 South 150
23 Open Wounds 157
24 Open Bottles 161
25 I'd Never … 165
26 I Might 173
27 I Did 185
28 The Damage Done 189
29 Alcatraz 196
30 Warriors 203
31 Family Day 208
32 Post-Traumatic 218
33 On the Outside 225
34 Relapse 231
35 Lucky One 235
Afterword Joanie Malarchuk 245
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
One common aspect of fan fiction is to create a mash-up from two or more series – superhero, science fiction, etc. Let's take, for example, NHL Hall of Fame goaltender Ken Dryden in his autobiography, “The Game”, coupled with Randle Patrick McMurphy & Billy Bibbit from Ken Kesey's “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest”, and mix in a little Wolverine from “X-Men”, and you'll probably get something totally bizarre and unreadable. On the other hand, you might end up with Clint Malarchuk's autobiography, “The Crazy Game”. This is NOT your typical athlete (auto)biography. Malarchuk's description of his playing days, and of his hockey-related activities while coaching, take up a remarkably small percentage of the book. Even the moment for which he is best known by even non-hockey fans, when an opposing player's skate accidentally slashed his throat, does not merit a large portion of the book – at least not overtly. On the other hand, how many other athletes would be willing to describe their mental illness, the attempt to identify it, self-cure it (via self-medication), and the time spent in a rehab facility finally getting a handle on his issues? I would recommend this book not only to hockey fans, but to those who may be fighting mental illnesses such as Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior (OCD) and depression, and to family members who may be facing the results of those conditions in their loved ones. RATING: 5 stars. This may be the most brutally honest – and for some, most important – book of the year.
Remembered the hockey incident, but not the many off ice problems.
This is a tremendous, awesome, riveting book! I couldn't put it down! A story of character, grit, and survival. Kudos to Clint Malarchuk, who provides a detailed look into his world. This book will help many suffering from mental illness...and even those who don't. This is a five star read.