NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — With his star goalie Joe Exter still in the hospital in serious condition with a fractured skull — the result of a nasty head-first collision with Boston College freshman Patrick Eaves — Merrimack coach Chris Serino addressed the media Saturday afternoon.
Serino spoke candidly and emotionally about Exter, the ugly melee that followed the incident, and his team’s preparedness for Saturday’s Hockey East quarterfinal Game 2 against Boston College. He also said Eaves did not attempt to injure Exter, and the referee did the best job he could.
Exter remains in serious condition Saturday following a collision during the Hockey East quarterfinal game with Boston College.
According to a statement issued by Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital on Saturday, Exter is being “monitored closely” and has a “serious head injury.” The hospital will be issuing an update on Exter’s condition after 7 p.m. Saturday evening.
Reports are that Exter suffered a fractured skull in the collision. He was immediately unconscious and since the incident has not resumed consciousness. According to Merrimack head coach Chris Serino, who address the media Saturday, trainers and doctors from both Merrimack and Boston College had to insert breathing tubes into a convulsing Exter while he lay on the ice Friday night.
In his address to the media, held at the Volpe Center in a room filled with parents, coaches and players, Serino thanked the entire hockey community for the enormous outpouring of support that he and his club has received in the past 24 hours.
“I spoke with Joe’s family today and they are very appreciative of all the support,” said an emotional Serino, who numerous times during the 30-minute press conference was unable to hold back tears. “I’ve received numerous calls from coaches and college hockey fans to let us know their prayers are with [Joe].”
Serino also candidly addressed the on-ice incidents that followed Exter’s injury. Numerous altercations ensued resulting in four additional game disqualification penalties, and had left many on edge entering Saturday’s second game of the best-of-three series.
“There were incidents in the game last night that I’m not proud of,” said Serino. “I want to stress that there were incidents on both sides that have to be addressed by coaches. I’m sure that [BC head coach] Jerry York will address his and I will address mine.”
Serino stressed that Merrimack can and will play Saturday’s game without seeking revenge and without altercation. He noted that he even gave his players the opportunity not to play if they weren’t going to be able to conduct themselves properly.
“When we leave here today, our focus will be on winning the game,” said Serino. “I spoke with my players today and I was willing to forfeit the game tonight.
“But I asked them to look me in the eye and tell me they could go to a game tonight, play a hockey game tonight and try to win the hockey game. Not to try to play a hockey game and try to have revenge or anything like that.
“Every one of them I had them look me in the eye and tell me they could play the game and play the game the way it should be played. I’ll stake my reputation that my players will play the game the way it should be played.”
According to Serino, Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna, who was in attendance during Friday’s contest and will be there throughout the remainder of the series, met with the Merrimack team this morning. He said Bertagna would also meet with Boston College at 4:30 p.m. Saturday and meet with both coaches and team representatives at Kelley Rink at 6:30, 90 minutes before the scheduled 8 p.m. faceoff.
“Joe [Bertagna] has concern for the game tonight,” said Serino. “And he came and voiced his concern about that. One thing he made perfectly clear was that he wasn’t just coming to us and that he was going to them also with the game concerns.”
Both teams will play Saturday without a full complement of players. For Boston College, rookie Stephen Gionta is expected to miss the game with a leg injury suffered on Friday night; BC’s Patrick Eaves, who was the other half of the collision that left Exter unconscious, and Bill Cass will both serve suspensions for disqualification penalties received. Eaves will actually miss a total of five games as Friday’s double disqualifications were his second and third of the season, carrying with it a five-game suspension.
Merrimack will be without Lucas Smith and Cam DeYoung, both serving suspensions, as well as other unspecified players who were injured on Friday. Serino said that all of his players available to him tonight would need to dress.
Merrimack’s most important loss, though, of course is Exter. The standout goaltender has started all but one game this season for the Warriors, but will be replaced by sophomore Casey Guenther.
Serino, though, has complete confidence in Guenther’s abilities to perform on Saturday.
“I posed the question to the players, ‘Does anybody believe that Casey Guenther won’t play at 185 percent tonight?’
“I don’t know how good he’ll be or how bad he’ll be — he’s only played two games in two years — but I know that his effort will be maximum.”
In regards to the hit itself, Serino, after watching the tape believed there was no intent to injure on the part of Eaves.
“Do I think that Patrick Eaves tried to hurt Joe Exter? No I don’t. Probably the person who feels the worst about this incident is Patrick Eaves.”
“Could he have avoided Joe? That’s something you’ll have to ask him. But I don’t think that any player goes out and tries to viciously injure someone.
“Things happen in the game that happen,” said Serino, who also noted that he thought that referee Jeff Bunyon did a good job and the best he could officiating Friday’s game. “Afterwards we can all look back and say maybe we can do things this way or that way. But we’re dealing with 22-year old athletes.
“If anyone can look at me and tell me they’ve never made a bad choice, God I want to follow them around in life.”
Serino addressed and dismissed the possibility that anything that took place on Friday night was part of revenge. Boston College’s Andrew Alberts ended the season of Merrimack assistant captain Marco Rosa on February 15 in a 6-1 Merrimack win. Serino, though, said that didn’t factor into his team’s thoughts entering Friday’s game.
“There’s been a lot of revenge things written [for the Rosa hit],” said Serino. “I told [the team before Friday's game] that there was no revenge factor at all. We’d play a hockey game without [looking for] revenge and we’ d play to win the game.
“I would challenge anyone to question that my hockey team, before Joe got hurt Friday night, did anything but try to win the game.
“When Joe got hurt, here’s our top player, when he got run, I saw him on the ice and just expected him to get up. When he started to go into convulsions, I wanted to keep my players away from seeing Joe, but I wanted to try to keep things from trying to erupt.”
This is the second time in Serino’s coaching career that he’s had to deal with a serious game injury to one of his players. When he coached at Saugus High School in the late 80′s and early 90′s, a player suffered a broken neck and to this day is still paralyzed below the neck.
“It’s a very similar situation,” said Serino. “You get flashbacks to all of those things that occur. There’s no way that you can ever prepare for something like this to happen. There’s no way that I can tell the Exter’s something that can soothe the pain.”
“The bottom line is we hope that Joe gets through this thing and is back to the way he was before.
“Joe’s a great hockey player, but I’ve told this to many people before — that he’s a better person. I really hope to God that he can walk away from this and continue life the way he was.”
Merrimack Sports Information Director Tom O’Brien will be providing the media with a briefing on Exter’s condition before Saturday’s night 8 p.m. faceoff. Check with USCHO.com at that time for further coverage.