Dion Durdle can’t seem to stay away from the game that almost killed him.
The Marystown native continues to play hockey 13 years after a horrific accident that left residue which remains to this day.
He’s back in the province after spending the past seven years in Qatar.
It’s been a remarkable journey for the 33-year-old.
The injury, which he says he doesn’t dwell on, happened on a Saturday night in 1998 at Bell Island’s Monsignor Bartlett Arena.
Durdle already had four goals and two assists on the night as the Bell Island Blues were routing the Trinity-Placentia Flyers 10-1 with about 10 minutes to play in the junior league contest.
Late in the game, Durdle fell on a breakout play and when the player behind him also went down his skate went up into Durdle’s side, about three to four inches near the armpit. The skate blade sliced open a major artery on his left side.
Blood came gushing out turning his white jersey red.
Durdle was rushed to the Bell Island hospital within minutes where doctors stabilized him for an emergency ferry run to St. John’s.
Ambulance drivers got Durdle to the Health Sciences Centre within 25 minutes, where surgeons used a vein from his leg to repair the artery in a 3 1/2-hour operation.
The doctors said he’d lost 50 per cent of his blood. They said it's a good thing he was young and strong or a minute or two later, he could have died. He underwent surgery to repair severe nerve damage and it took months of therapy to just get movement back in his arm. But the next year he was back on the ice.
“I had limited movement in my left hand for two years after the injury,” he said. “I cut the nerve in my hand that basically controls the index finger and thumb.”
Durdle said he’s got about 60 per cent movement in his index finger and thumb now but it will never be 100 per cent.
“They had to take a nerve from my leg and use it as a graft to join the two ends that were severed,”explained Durdle. “The nerve had to basically grow from my arm pit to my finger tips which took a long time.”
Durdle said he was “quite limited” in his shooting ability when he got back on the ice and had to change his style of game from a scorer to a playmaker.
He said quitting hockey never crossed his mind although he took a couple of years off before playing two season with Deer Lake Red Wings. After that, he took an instructors’s job for the College of the North Atlantic (CONA) in Qatar where he was chairman for the school of business department.
“I always had a travel itch and I wanted to see the world and make some money. Qatar is oil rich and the weather’s great, although its culture is quite different from Newfoundland,” he said.
Durdle enjoyed his time in Qatar but now he’s married to an English woman and with a child on the way, he said he was ready to settle down and Newfoundland was always where he wanted to end up.
While he played in the Qatar International Hockey League, he admits it wasn’t much more than a recreational-level league.
“We got on the ice a couple of times a week, so it was great to be able to strap on the skates. It was pretty strange, really. The last thing I expected to was to be able to play hockey in the middle of the desert.
“By the time I’d left it had expanded from three to six teams,” Durdle noted. “They were mostly Canadians, Europeans and some Americans, but a couple of locals got involved as well. It was quite diverse,” said Durdle who also managed to win the Qatar version of Red Bull Crashed Ice event.
Durdle, who to this day has little sensation in his index finger and thumb, said he was looking forward to playing competitive hockey again when he came home.
He says he’s still in “decent shape” and wanted to give it one more kick at the can. He has two goals and four assists in nine games with the Avalon East senior circuit’s Bell Island Blues.
“I wanted to get back into senior hockey as son as I got back here,” said Durdle, who added he’ll take it one year at a time in terms of how long he’ll continue to play.
“Life’s going to change when the baby arrives, I’m sure, but right now I have a bit of time for it.”
He admitted he’s built some bad habits playing hockey in Qatar, so he’s been trying to “re-learn” the game.
Durdle said Blues coach Greg Smyth has helped a lot in his readjustment to competitive hockey.
“He’s a very technical coach and he’s helped a lot,” said Durdle, who now works as the Health, Safety Environment Quality (HSEQ) manager for the Maderra engineering firm in St. John’s.
David Brazil of the Blues management said he kept in contact with Durdle since he left the province.
“We’d get together every time he’d come back for a visit, have a few beers and chat about hockey. When he came home last year he’d just gotten married and he said he’d be back when they were ready to start a family.
Now he’s back to stay and Brazil is happy to have him and happy to see he hasn’t lost a step.