BUFFALO, N.Y. — A trainer was able to stick two fingers through Matt Luff’s chin, that’s how bad it was. And this for a guy who hates blood.
It speaks to Luff’s toughness, and his identity as a hockey player, that he’s back in the lineup for the Detroit Red Wings two days after rushing from a game. It was in the third period of Saturday’s game that a puck rolled up his stick and hit him in the side of the head.
“It was instant shock,” Luff said Monday. “I looked down and it was just kind of pulsing blood from my face. I was trying to get to the room quick and get it under control.
“I hate blood so looking down and seeing all that, I was like, oh God.”
Luff said he took eight stitches to the outside of his chin and eight on the inside; a visit to the dentist scheduled for Tuesday should reveal how much dental work he’ll need — but he’s pretty sure a top tooth has to go, because it was pushed back into his mouth. It wasn’t pleasant sleeping the first night, and eating has been a pain, but even though Sunday was an optional practice, Luff was out there, blowing away his teammates.
“Credit to him, it’s an opportunity to play,” coach Derek Lalonde said. “He takes that puck, and we basically had a skate Sunday and he went over a certain output threshold from our strength coach, and he was one of them. Didn’t expect to see him and he was out there buzzing around. Credit to him. That’s a lot of hockey players.”
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Luff, 25, was signed in the off-season for one year, $750,000; then a veteran of 87 NHL games with the Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators, he was viewed as a good mentor to have in the minors and a quality call-up in case of need. That need emerged last week, as the Wings are without forwards Tyler Bertuzzi (upper body), Jakub Vrana (players assistance program), Oskar Sundqvist (upper body) and Michael Rasmussen (suspension through Monday’s game at the Buffalo Sabres).
“We’ve been in a tough spot,” Lalonde said. “I don’t care who you are, anyone loses five of your top forwards, it’s going to not look very pretty.”
Luff wasn’t going to let an opportunity to play in the NHL slip no matter what. He was still getting stitched up 10 minutes after Saturday’s game ended, when general manager Steve Yzerman stopped by the medical room. “He’s like, ‘what’s going on,’ and I was ‘I’ll be good for Buffalo,'” Luff said.
He’ll have to wear a cage until his teeth are fixed and the swelling subsides. Drinking is awkward — he has to hold the bottle to the side of his face — and when teammates ordered garlic bread sticks as an appetizer during Sunday’s dinner, Luff had to look away.
“It was painful to think about,” Luff said.
While he was getting stitched up, he told medical personnel about the game, and what day it was. There was no concussion.
“I’ve played since I was three and it’s the first time it’s happened,” he said. “It’s the price you pay to play this sport. It’s going to happen, but luckily it’s just my mouth. It could have been higher up in my face, and who knows what could have happened then. So just take the positive out of it. It’s just the mouth and you get sewn up and go from there.
“This is an opportunity to to come in and show the coaches you can play at this level. Whether it’s down the road they can continue using you, it’s just come in and show your stuff and be a guy that plays with energy and tries to hunts down pucks and hits things that move at the end of the day.”
The other perspective is this: What better time of year to be running around with a big scar than Halloween weekend.
“I was trying to get around places and people were staring at me when I was trying to get my meds that night,” he said. “It was funny. I was trying to carry around napkins because it was bleeding throughout the night.
“It was a pretty good costume I guess.”
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.