By Len Bardsley
Mar. 17, 2006
B.J. MacPherson always wanted to get into coaching after his playing days with the San Diego Gulls ended. He just never expected the arduous journey he would take to get there.
These days, MacPherson, the Gulls’ associate coach along with Jamie Black, considers himself lucky to be getting a coaching opportunity at the age of 32.
It would be an understatement to say MacPherson paid his dues. His playing career with the Gulls ended suddenly, and nearly tragically, during Game 4 of the 2001 Taylor Cup finals with the Gulls playing Idaho in Boise. MacPherson fell into the boards and dislocated his neck and suffered a spinal cord injury.
His heart stopped beating. A tracheotomy was performed with a penknife while he was immobilized at the rink to allow him to breathe through his throat. When he was taken to the hospital in Boise, two doctors looked at him and said they could not operate. He was told he would never walk again.
But Dr. Christian Zimmerman got a call from a colleague at the game and came to MacPherson’s rescue.
“They were going to put me in traction and pull my neck apart,” MacPherson said. “There was a doctor in the stands at the game who called his friend, who was another doctor and a spinal cord specialist. He came into the hospital floor and said ‘I want to perform surgery.’ They were like ‘This is our hospital,’ there was almost a pushing match. I said ‘This is my doctor, this is my doctor?”
Zimmerman performed successful surgery, but the Gulls’ captain was a long, long way from returning to the form that allowed him to be a tough power-forward.
“I woke up and I could move my finger,” MacPherson said. “I could move my toe and fingers by Game 6. I thought ‘I am getting through this.’ I was thinking I was going back to San Diego for Game 7.”
MacPherson did get back to San Diego for Game 7, through much effort and persuasion. He spoke to the team before they would win the Taylor Cup title, but he could not last through the game, being rushed back to the hospital when his blood pressure dropped dramatically. MacPherson remained in the hospital for 34 days, losing 50 pounds from his rugged 6-foot-2 frame. Still by Day 28 he was walking on his own.
MacPherson eventually returned to the Gulls doing the color commentary on their radio broadcasts. As his strength improved he started to help the Gulls on the ice when he could during practice. When the team struggled early this season MacPherson was asked to be an assistant coach.