Tuesday, November 9th, 2010


OHA honours those who saved linesman's life


NEW HAMBURG -- Most on-ice hockey officials pride themselves on anonymity. The better job they do, the less they are noticed.

Those rules don't apply to Kevin Brown. The Sebringville native and Ontario Hockey Association linesman was doing his job last December, breaking up a fight during a Junior C game between the New Hamburg Firebirds and Woodstock Renegades. When he moved closer to intervene, the players tumbled to the ice and an errant skate cartwheeled through the air and sliced Brown's carotid artery.

Brown lost massive amounts of blood as he skated to the New Hamburg bench and collapsed. He would have died if not for the heroic efforts of Firebirds' trainer Greg Henning, Woodstock trainers Dan Dukes and Bert Cowell, and Paula Thomson, the mother of a Woodstock player and registered nurse who was in attendance.

Those who saved Brown's life were honoured by the OHA during a ceremony before Friday's Firebirds/Navy Vets game in New Hamburg. Thomson, Dukes and Cowell received a President's Letter from OHA president Brent Ladds, while Henning received a Crystal Puck.

"I will hang the OHA President's Letter with pride," Thomson said. "I think my part in saving Kevin's life was a matter of me being in the right place at the right time for him. I am so thankful we were able to keep him stable to give him a chance at life. The rest has been all Kevin. He is an amazing young man who has worked very hard (along with his family) to get to where he is today."

Brown, who has a large scar on his neck from the incident, suffered a stroke due to the blood loss. He's still a long way from his goal of returning to the ice, but those who saw Brown in the weeks following his injury are amazed at his progress.

"I kind of remember," Brown said of the fight that changed his life. "I didn't see the skate coming up but I knew I had a job to do and break up a fight. I remember being on my knees and bleeding. I knew it was an artery and that's when I bailed. After that it's a blur."

Thomson was still celebrating a Woodstock goal when Brown was cut. She rushed to the bench as trainers from both teams applied pressure to the gaping wound.

"Kevin had his hand clasped over his neck and you could see the blood pulsating from him," Thomson said. "I was oblivious to the commotion around me as I was focused on Kevin."

Thomson cut the straps on Brown's helmet but made sure not to loosen the pressure on his neck.

"The trainers were doing a great job maintaining pressure," Thomson said. "The group of us worked very well together keeping calm and doing our best to ensure Kevin had a fighting chance once he reached the hospital."

The story gained international attention and thrust Brown, however reluctantly, into the spotlight.

"I like to keep a low profile and it kind of got blown during this," he said. "It's my preference to get in and get out and it didn't happen with this."

Brown didn't lack visitors while he recovered in hospital and at his parents' house. All of the trainers and Thomson, as well as the entire Renegades team paid him a visit.

"Words can't describe it really. It gives you a new perspective on stuff ," he said.

There was an outpouring of support from around the globe, and Brown even received a ball cap from an OHA official living in Japan.

"You hear how small the hockey world is and I wanted to believe it until that happened," he said.

Brown has received encouragement from his peers, including NHL linesmen Steve Miller, of Stratford, and Scott Driscoll, of Seaforth. He attended an NHL game in Buffalo as a guest of Driscoll, who has season tickets.

"I think it hit close to home with them," Brown said. "They haven't forgotten where they came from."

After the injury, the OHA mandated neckguards for all on-ice officials and players.

"Most nights your biggest concerns are getting hit by a puck after the defenceman goes high and hard (off the glass) and out," Brown said. "It was an accident, plain and simple, and it is what it is.

"The toughest part is it's a brain injury. With a broken arm they can give you a timeline, but a brain injury they can't. It makes it a lot tougher."

While Brown's memory of the injury is fuzzy and something he would rather forget, those who prevented a tragedy at Southwood Arena will remember with great detail the night they saved a young man's life. For that, Brown and his family are eternally grateful.

"I couldn't sleep the next couple of days not knowing how Kevin was," said Thomson, who tracked down the cellphone number of Brown's father, Murray. "This was a hard call to make. When Murray answered the phone, I told him my name and that he probably didn't know who I was. His response was, 'yes I do, you saved my son's life.'"