By Chris Umpierre
ESTERO, Fla. – Playing professional hockey again was the last thing on Chris Dyment’s mind Jan. 1. Dyment and his doctors feared he would lose his left eye after he was assaulted in a vicious off-ice incident that day.
A Providence Bruins defenseman at the time, Dyment underwent five hours of emergency surgery after somebody struck him in the face with a beer bottle outside of a Providence, R.I. restaurant early New Year’s Day. The bottle’s glass slit Dyment’s eye, tearing his retina and spilling the eye’s inner contents.
Doctors used two sets of stitches to close the cut and then gave Dyment two pieces of bad news: he could become blind if the eye developed an infection and his four-year pro hockey career was over.
The doctors were wrong. The Florida Everblades defenseman, who joined the club two weeks ago, was back playing three months after the injury but he isn’t the same. Dyment, 27, still has a piece of the Heineken bottle in his eye and his left pupil is significantly larger than normal. He must wear a longer visor than normal and his vision is “nowhere near perfect.” He can’t see the names on the back of jerseys 15 feet away when he’s playing, but that’s not going to stop him.
“Three different doctors told me I wouldn’t be able to skate again this year, if ever, but I never let that sink in,” Dyment said. “My (primary) doctor was even shocked after a couple weeks the improvement I was having. He said with that severe of an injury, he’s never seen that type of improvement.”
Dr. Rachid Aouchiche, the Blades’ eye physician, said Dyment suffered a “ruptured globe,” a major injury where the outer coat of the eye is sliced. Depending on the size of the cut, Aouchiche said 50 percent of those patients become blind.
“Whenever you have a torn retina and retinal detachment, that’s definitely a serious injury. He’s very, very fortunate to be playing again,” said Aouchiche, who is in his 25th year as an ophthalmologist.
Returning to professional hockey after such a major injury might be considered ludicrous. Hockey is a physical, hard-hitting sport. Dyment could easily re-injure his eye with a hard hit or if a stick goes under his visor.
“As a hockey player, you have this mentality where you think it won’t happen to me again,” said Blades forward Ernie Hartlieb, who suffered a fractured skull in a game and was in a coma for 12 days when he was 18 years old. “It’s how we were brought up since we were little kids. You had to be tough and play through injuries.”
Wrong place, wrong time
New Year Eve’s began as a happy day for Dyment and his Providence Bruins. Providence beat the Hartford Wolf Pack 3-1 earlier in the day and then the team went to Paragon restaurant on the East Side of Providence.
Around 2 a.m. things went from happy to horrid. Several Bruins players were having a snowball fight outside of the restaurant when a group of men took exception, according to a Providence police report. The men were allegedly members of a gang.
The confrontation seemed to be over after a few minutes. Dyment said he and his girlfriend, Erica Wood, were standing off to the side when a 6-foot man wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans came from behind and struck him in the face with a Heineken bottle.
The Providence Police department hasn’t made any arrests but it has a few suspects as it continues to investigate, Sgt. Dan Gannon said. Dyment is still angry his attacker hasn’t been apprehended.
“I did nothing wrong that night and I had that much taken away from me,” Dyment said. “The kid got away with what he did and I was stuck with all sorts of (medical) bills, never mind missing three quarters of a season. I have these scars to show for it. I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. It just sucks that he chose me to do it to.”
Rehab and recovery
Dyment saw an eye specialist every day for the first month after the injury.
“Every day I would go in and the doctor would say, ‘It looks a little better. It looks a little better. Maybe you can come back to hockey next year,’” he said. “After two months, I kind of went behind the doctor’s back and started skating on my own.”
Known as a locker room leader, Dyment missed his teammates.
“I love being part of a team,” Dyment said. “I love being around the locker room, hanging with the guys. You realize how much you love it when it’s not there.”
Dyment returned to Providence practice Feb. 22, about six weeks after the incident. He played in his first game March 26. His teammates bought him a pink cake with Chris spelled with a “K” before his first game to liven up the mood.
“I remember his eye was swollen pretty bad and he had some pretty good gashes. It definitely wasn’t a pretty sight,” former ECHL player and coach and current Providence Bruins coach Scott Gordon said. “Chris is just very fortunate that he came out of it getting some vision. Playing hockey is great but getting some vision back is what’s important.”
Reassigned to the Blades from the American Hockey League’s Albany River Rats two weeks ago, Dyment is one of Florida’s top veteran defensemen.
“He’s a guy who’s pushing other guys to get better. He’s a steady player,” Blades defenseman Brett Peterson said. “Coming back from that injury shows what kind of guy he is because we’re not in the NHL. We’re not making a lot of money. It’s easy when something like that happens to say, ‘I got a college degree. It’s time to get a real job.’ He didn’t do that.”