The Czech Republic opened the 2011 World Championship on Saturday with a 4-2 win over Latvia, but what they lost was far more valuable. Radek Martínek, considered one of the team's top defencemen, has been lost for the tournament with a severe concussion.
Fourteen and a half minutes into the first period, he was chipping the puck deep into the Latvian zone when he was hit hard by defenceman Artūrs Kulda into the boards. Martínek then collapsed to the ice.
Play was stopped immediately as Martínek lay motionless. Paramedics were summoned, and the injured New York Islanders blueliner was stabilized, taken from the ice on a stretcher and then to the hospital via ambulance.
Kulda was not penalized on the play, but on Sunday the IIHF announced that he had been suspended for three games. “The video showed Artūrs Kulda jumping into the situation, hitting Martinek’s head and neck area,” said Jan-Ake Edvinsson, Chairman of the federation's Disciplinary Panel.
Though the hit did not seem especially vicious, the IIHF has been particularly vigilant this year about punishing checks that make contact with an opponent's head, even accidentally. At the World Juniors in Buffalo this past winter, Czech defenceman Petr Šenkeřík was knocked unconscious when he was hit in mid ice by Canadian forward Zack Kassian, resulting in a two-game suspension. Although, like Kulda, Kassian did not seem to actually target his opponent's head, contact was made which caused injury.
This is the latest incident in an ever-growing issue in the sport, in which punishing head shots has become a hotly-contested debate in various leagues around the world, including the NHL.
Immediately following the game, coach Alois Hadamczik was still hopeful that Martínek could return before the end of the tournament, however the diagnosis released on Sunday by IIHF Medical Supervisor Dr. Beat Villiger all but rules that out.
“The player has suffered a severe concussion and a severe bruise (hematoma),” he said. “The CT scan showed no further injuries, but there is very little chance that he can play in the championship.”
David Schlegel of eurohockey.com reports that the injury could have even been life-threatening.
"His life was in jeopardy," said Czech team doctor Radomír Holibka. "He is okay now, but he'll remain in hospital in Bratislava." The doctor said that he should remain in hospital for at least 24 hours for examination and would need at least six weeks of rest.
While the Czechs were forced to play the rest of the game with five defencemen, they will be back up to six against Denmark on Monday as Zbyněk Michálek, along with forward Tomáš Plekanec, are scheduled to make their tournament debuts.
The loss of Michálek means that the Czechs will almost certainly use one of their two extra roster spots on an additional defenceman, possibly two. The names Roman Hamrlík and Jaroslav Špáček have both been mentioned, but if they aren't available, it could mean that either Ondřej Němec or Jakub Nakládal, who are still with the national team but haven't been added to the tournament roster, may see some action.