CALGARY — Christopher Higgins knew as soon as he caught Mike Ribeiro with a high stick to the throat, the Dallas Stars centre was injured.
It wasn’t until the next day, though, that Higgins realized how serious the situation truly became.
“Tough to hurt a friend like that,” he said of his former Montreal Canadiens teammate.
Higgins and the Rangers were playing host to the Stars in early January when the incident took place.
Higgins was chasing Brad Richards into the defensive zone, and with one hand on his stick accidentally stabbed Ribeiro in the neck.
Ribeiro was on the ice for a few minutes in obvious pain, but made his way to the dressing room on his feet, albeit with some help.
Ranger fans actually were booing Ribeiro believing he was faking an injury, but history proves he was seriously hurt. Word came out the next day Ribeiro required an emergency tracheotomy and spent the night in hospital.
“I was really surprised it was that serious,” said Higgins, who was traded to Calgary Feb. 1. “Everybody thought he was faking, but I knew I caught him pretty good. With how hard my stick went into him, I knew he was hurting.”
Ribeiro faced the Flames Thursday night, just his second game back from the injury, and is skating with a neck guard.
Ribeiro scored for Dallas in his return, a 4-3 shootout loss to Chicago.
The pair talked by phone the day after it happened, and caught up with each other face-to-face Wednesday.
“It was good to see him,” Higgins said. “We didn’t even see each other (on the play). We were both looking at the puck, and just collided. It was a freak play and totally unexpected.
“He knows it was a total freak play and we were glad to be laughing about it. I’m glad he made out alright.”
Ribeiro said last month he believed it could have been worse because Higgins immediately let go of his stick.
“I just dropped it because I didn’t want to get a penalty, we were already on the penalty kill. I got one anyway,” Higgins said.
With that chapter of his life now closed, Higgins is concentrating on feeling more like a Flame.
“It’s starting to (feel like home), the locker room, at least, but not the city so much,” said the New Yorker who has only spent a few days in Calgary since the trade which brought him here along with Ales Kotalik for Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust.
The deal forced Higgins to cancel a vacation planned for the Olympic break, and he’ll use much of the 10 days he has off to make something of a home in Calgary for the stretch run.
“Trying to get my life centred because it’s been kinda chaotic the last few weeks,” he said.