The Day Steve Ludzik Wanted to Kick My Ass (virtually)
This is Steve Ludzik.
Steve is a former professional athlete who played 424 games in the NHL.
This is a cartoon I created back in 2008 as a sports editorial cartoonist for Sun Media. This cartoon has nothing to do with Steve Ludzik. Or at least I didn't think so at the time.
The cartoon, for those who don't know, is about a former goaltender in the NHL who had either the worst case of bad luck in human history or perhaps the best, depending on your perspective.
When the subject of "sports' most horrific injuries" comes up, the name Clint Malarchuk always invariably follows. Back in 1989, while playing for the Buffalo Sabres, Malarchuk was struck in the neck by an errant skate and almost bled to death in front of a horrified crowd. Only the close proximity to standby emergency paramedics saved his life. Clint Malarchuk was struck by an overwhelming large amount of bad luck and good luck. On the same day it would seem.
Malarchuk miraculously survived the injury and eventually ended his career in 1992.
Fast forward to 2008 and reports are circulating throughout the hockey world that Clint Malarchuk has once again fallen victim to another unfortunate incident. He had somehow shot had himself in the chin but again had survived.
Not much at the time was known about how it happened. No one really knew. All we did know was that Malarchuk had survived yet again and from that perspective I drew (literally) my inspiration for the above cartoon which was published across Canada the following Sunday.
A day later I get a call from a strange number. The guy on the line says he's Steve Ludzik. Yeah that Steve. He wants to talk to me. I had no idea at the time that this was connected to the Malarchuk cartoon although it didn't take me long to figure it out.
"I saw the cartoon you did about Clint," says Steve Ludzik bluntly. "I don't like it."
This is the first time I ever had a professional athlete tell me firsthand that he wasn't a fan of a creation of mine although I'm sure there are others. More so he must really hate the cartoon a lot for him to chase down my number and phone me directly about it. Seemed a little weird.
"Look I respect what you do," says Steve, "but he's a good friend on mine I just wanted to tell you that I don't appreciate anyone making light of this."
I was truly dumbfounded at this point. I really had no idea what he was alluding to.
"Clint's been going through... some things, and uh, well, you just don't know the whole story," Steve tells me. "And I want to be there for my friend."
Only then did it dawn on me that the gunshot wound was self-inflicted. Only then did I realize that this particular incident with Clint Malarchuk was not an accident whatsoever. I honestly felt terrible. Had I known - had Sun Media known for that matter - the cartoon would never have been published, let alone drawn in the first place.
"I'm sorry Steve. I had no idea. I would never have submitted this cartoon had I known. I'm not that kind of person. I am truly sorry."
"I just wanted to tell you this face to face, man to man," Steve says. "Again I respect what you do but, you know, you have to be there to protect your friends."
The call ended soon after and I was awe struck by what had happened.
There was no threat, no intimidation. No anger. No profanity. Just a teammate sticking up for a teammate. Just a man defending his friend.
We would learn much later about the psychological battles Clint Malarchuk had been going through post career that had gotten him that close to taking his own life. Although I did feel terrible for the cartoon, as long as a Steve Ludzik knew it was not my intention to minimize his friend's predicament, I would be at peace with what had happened that day. It meant something to me that Steve knew, and hopefully in turn Clint Malarchuk might know, I never meant to hurt anyone.
I gained enormous respect for Steve Ludzik that day and I also thought about Clint Malarchuk and his string of luck. I thought about how ultimately lucky he was for not only surviving the two harrowing, near death experiences but also how lucky he was to have a friend like Steve Ludzik.