By Brian Compton
Joe Exter certainly has a lot to be thankful for.
He’s thankful that he was recently named the first full-time goaltending coach for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. He’s thankful for having the chance to make 42 appearances at the ECHL level with the Wheeling Nailers over a two-year period.
More than anything, though, he’s thankful for surviving one of the most horrific accidents in the history of the sport.
On March 7, 2003, Exter was between the pipes for Merrimack College in a game against Boston College. With 6:17 to play, he went to chase a loose puck, and, in the process, his head collided with the knee of current Ottawa Senators’ forward Patrick Eaves.
Exter’s helmet immediately flew off, and his unprotected head struck the ice, fracturing his skull. He began to convulse on the ice, where an emergency tracheotomy was performed to keep Exter alive.
He was sent to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, where he was placed in a medically-induced coma as doctors tried to reduce the swelling on his brain. For the next several days, it was touch-and-go. Ten days after the collision, Exter regained consciousness.
Doctors told Exter he would never play hockey again. But less than three months after the accident, the blades were back on. By the end of 2003, he signed a deal with the American Hockey League’s Wilkes- Barre/ Scranton Penguins, who are Wheeling’s AHL affiliate. In two years with the Nailers, Exter went 18-15-2 with a 2.71 GAA. He posted six career shutouts.
While Exter remembers nothing about the collision, his survival story holds firm in his memory bank. He fully intends to use it as motivation for America’s young, up-and-coming goaltenders who he will be working closely with.
“I don’t physically remember going through it, but I’ve seen it, so I know it was me,” Exter said. “It’s not something you want to forget; it’s something that a lot of good things have come out of. It’s just another aspect that I can bring to these guys. You can’t take anything for granted. You have to cherish what you have. This program is the best opportunity that any kids their age could ask for.”