Capitals defenseman Tom Poti is recovering after eye injury

(John Mcdonnell - Twp)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 14, 2010

It was something Tom Poti had done thousands of times over the course of 838 NHL games: As Montreal forward Mike Cammalleri prepared to shoot in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, the Washington Capitals defenseman positioned himself between the puck and his goal, smack in the middle of harm's way.

This time, though, the puck didn't sail past Poti or deflect off his shin pad. It pinballed almost straight up in the air off teammate Shaone Morrisonn's outstretched stick and into the side of Poti's face.

The impact left him temporarily blind in his right eye and, in the moments immediately after, "really, really scared" for his future.

"There was a mirror in the trainer's room," Poti said. "I looked in the mirror. Both my eyes were wide open, but I couldn't see out of the one on the right." An examination Wednesday revealed that his vision has returned to 20/20 and that he's regained full movement of the eye. Doctors expect that he'll be able to resume playing next season without any lingering issues.

"He was extremely lucky," said Capitals physician Ben Shaffer, who is also the president of the NHL Team Physicians Society. "With an injury like that, you worry about rupturing the globe. . . . There's no coming back from that."

Slowing the process of Poti's recovery in recent days has been a pair of minor setbacks: first an allergic reaction to the eye drops he had been prescribed, then an infection to the tissue surrounding the eye. Poti, who suffers from severe food allergies and carries an EpiPen with him at all times, suspects his condition may have contributed to his eye swelling shut for four days.

The swelling and itching -- not to mention a two-inch gash that, as he said, has strangers wondering, "What the hell happened to that guy?" -- has further complicated a hectic time in the veteran defenseman's life. His wife, Jessica, is 39 weeks pregnant with the couple's first child.

"Yeah, we kind of have a lot going on," he chuckled from his Cape Cod, Mass., home, which is in the final stages of extensive renovations.

Poti knows he's fortunate to be able to laugh now. Had the puck ricocheted just half an inch higher, the 33-year-old, who was not wearing a visor, might have suffered permanent vision loss, his career perhaps finished.

Fortunately for Poti, his face took the brunt of the blow from the puck, a 5 1/2 - to 6-ounce disc of vulcanized rubber. He suffered fractures to the zygomatic bone, the orbital floor and the orbit, and his eye socket was significantly damaged, Shaffer said.

As soon as the puck struck him, Poti dropped his stick and skated off to the bench while play continued around him. Shaffer, who travels with the team during the playoffs, evaluated the damage and stitched up the gash. About an hour after the Capitals' 4-1 loss, Shaffer tended to Poti on the bus ride to Montreal's suburban airport, then on the 1 1/2 -hour flight to Dulles International Airport on the team's charter.

It was easily the worst travel experience of Poti's life.

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