Puck To His Grill Costs Paukovich His Chicklets

(left) DU Alum Geoff Paukovich took a puck to the mouth during a recent ECHL hockey game in Alaska

From: Las Vegas Review Journal

by Todd Dewey

Imagine taking a blistering puck to the mouth that caves in your top four front teeth and leaves a gash on your lip that requires 15 stitches to close.

Now imagine not being able to see a dentist until the next day -- when he'll snap your teeth back into place -- and, in the meantime, writhing in agony all night as blood pours from your mouth and onto your pillow.

That was the misery Wranglers center Geoff Paukovich suffered this month in Alaska, where he incurred the injuries in a game against the Aces.

But the physical pain Paukovich experienced pales in comparison to the mental and emotional anguish he has suffered since he accidentally broke the neck of former Las Vegas defenseman Robbie Bina during a college game in 2005.

"It was a play that changed my life," said Paukovich, 24. "It still lives with me to this day.

"It was one of those things in life where if you had three wishes and could go back and change things, that would definitely be one of them."

The fateful play took place March 18, 2005, when Paukovich, then a freshman at the University of Denver, checked Bina, a North Dakota sophomore, from behind and sent him crashing headfirst into the boards.

"It was a delayed penalty. He knew it was a delayed penalty and I didn't," Paukovich said. "And when he went to touch the puck, he kind of let up and I kept going full steam through him, thinking he was getting the puck. The next thing I know he was laying on the ice.

"Never would you think it was that serious, but it was, and it changed my life forever and it changed his life forever."

A native of Englewood, Colo., Paukovich realized his childhood dream that season by helping the Pioneers to the national title.

But consumed by guilt over the injury he had caused, he soon lost his desire to play hockey.

"My sophomore year was pretty much a write-off," he said. " I honestly didn't want to play hockey because I felt sick about it."

He also struggled to deal with the venom directed at him and his family from many North Dakota fans, who Paukovich said threatened him on Facebook and in e-mails and harassed his parents with phone calls to their home.

"It was crazy," he said. "It took me a full year just to get back comfortable playing again and getting used to living with that stigma of being that guy that did that."

Taken in the second round of the 2004 NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers and recruited by Denver, in large part, for his propensity for playing "on the edge," the 6-foot-4-inch, 215-pound Paukovich also started to alter his style of play.

"I would second-guess myself every time I would look to go make a physical play," he said. "It took me a year to get over that.

"I'm definitely more aware of it now, not just burying someone to bury someone. But it's not the first thing I'm thinking about when I get on the ice."

Now a fourth-year pro, Paukovich has been a key player this season for Las Vegas (24-11-3), which lost to the Bakersfield Condors (21-18-1) 1-0 on Saturday night at the Orleans Arena.

"He is the ultimate team player. He does all the stuff a lot of players don't want to do," Wranglers coach Ryan Mougenel said. "He's definitely a huge reason why we've had success here. I think he's enjoying playing again."

Nearly six years removed from the play that changed his life, Paukovich has since made his peace with Bina, who he now considers a friend.

The two cleared the air a couple of years ago when they were in Edmonton's training camp together, and they also were teammates in Springfield during the 2008-09 season.

"The biggest thing for me was when Robbie and I played together, one of the things we both got was closure," Paukovich said. "It's a true credit to him. He actually came up to me and was basically like, 'Hey, things happen. It's not going to be an issue.'

"Obviously, I apologized -- as much as I could at that point. We talked probably five minutes about it, and that was it. Ever since then, any talk we've had has been as teammates and friends."

After sitting out the season following his injury, Bina bounced back strong for the Fighting Sioux and is now playing professionally in Germany. He was named an ECHL All-Star last season for Las Vegas before leaving for Europe.

"The thing I'm most thankful for is he was able to continue his career," Paukovich said. "He's healthy, and he's still able to do what he loves."


dggoddard said...

I wasn't aware that teeth were like Lego blocks that you could snap back into place.

Pauko is lucky that The Rock starring as the Tooth Fairy didn't take the teeth in the middle of the night.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, in my pea-sized mind, I can still hear the thunderous hits he used to dish out, watching the boards & glass wobble afterwards. Losing your fronts is a rite of passage in many ways. Now he's a true pro hockey player. If he really wants to be a badass, he takes them out for games.

vizoroo said...

tIn all the storm about this hit, this is the first time I heard Paucko say he didn't realize there was a delayed penalty.

Twister said...

Pauko was one of my favorite Pioneers. There are solid hits in every hockey game, and some guys are better hitters than others, but Pauko had an extra explosion when he hit people. I remember he hit David Backes (who is a big tough winger for the Blues) during a games vs MSUM. Backes was wobbly and needed help off the ice. I remember another hit in a game vs Niagara. One their players was bringing the puck up ice and was flattened and slid about 20 feet into the boards.

His insight after the Bina incident is very compelling. He just wasn't the same player after that.

Anonymous said...

I've never hear Geoff come clean about how the Bina incident affected him his sophomore year. We all saw his play drop off, but I didn't know he was so haunted by the play. I can only imagine what he and his family had to endure from the North Dakota faithful. Such a despicable, classless group of fans.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a classy thing to do; burying the hatchet with Geoff in a five minute conversation and then to befriend him; once again, wow, what a class act. I wonder where that Robbie Bina guy is from?

Make sure you're as chauvinistic as possible when pointing out the despicable; just try not to break your arm in the process.

The Mustard's Last Stand II

Anonymous said...

Not related whatsoever; but in 1997 or 98, I was at the Dallas Stars/Coyotes game when Derrian Hatcher shattered Jeremy Roenick's jaw from a running-start, elbow to the head, headfirst into the boards. After Jeremy got off the ice, The Phoenix trainer was picking up little pieces of his helmet and putting them in the palm of his hand. I later found out those were Roenick's teeth

dggoddard said...

These stories are another reason why you young hockey players out there should always brush your teeth.

You don't want the trainers to see any plaque when they are picking your teeth up off the ice.