BRIGHTON, Mass. — On Oct. 24 at Chicago’s United Center, Jakub Lauko was on his hands and knees, felled by a Jarred Tinordi hit. Suddenly, Lauko saw something approach his left eye. The Boston Bruins’ fourth-liner had enough time to identify what was likely to strike him in the face.
A skate blade.
“I kind of saw the skate coming,” Lauko recalled. “Or something. I didn’t know what was that. But I kind of realized it was a skate.”
The Chicago Blackhawks’ Jason Dickinson was tumbling toward the boards. As Dickinson fell, he lifted his left foot off the ice. The heel of Dickinson’s left skate blade swung into Lauko’s face.
The force of the strike fractured two bones around Lauko’s eye socket. That was the least of the 23-year-old’s concerns. All he could see was black out of his left eye.
Lauko thought his eye was gone.
On Wednesday at Warrior Ice Arena, Lauko practiced with his teammates for the first time since suffering the injury. He did so while wearing a cage and a maroon non-contact jersey.
Lauko’s vision is fine. His left eye, swollen shut for a week after the incident, feels good.
The blackness of the seven stitches he needed postgame has faded. So has the purple that enveloped his entire eye following the selfie he posted to X on Oct. 27, three days following the injury.
modeling career defo in jeopardy😮💨but let’s just say I was very very lucky🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/MRgJJtPjAd
— Jakub Lauko (@jakub_lauko) October 27, 2023
The white part of his eye to the left of his iris remains red.
Lauko will miss his seventh straight game on Thursday against the New York Islanders. His return date is unknown. He has appeared in six games, mostly as the No. 4 right wing. He is scoreless while averaging 9:25 of ice time per appearance.
“It feels good,” Lauko said of his eye. “I’m just grateful that I can be here now. Because it was a close call. It was very close to the eye.”
Lauko, using his finger, pointed to the inside of his left eye next to the bridge of his nose. One of the stitches he required, Lauko explained, nearly touched his eyeball.
That was how close Dickinson’s skate had gotten.
“It missed the eye, literally, by millimeters,” Lauko said.
That night, what he couldn’t see out of his left eye and what he spotted with his right eye made him panic. He could not only see the blood that was pumping out of the wound, but he felt it. At the time, the energy wing had been on the ice for a 41-second shift.
“The blood was literally squirting for a second,” Lauko said. “I was lightheaded after. It was a lot of blood.”
Lauko immediately dropped his left glove and held his left hand to his eye. As he got to his feet, Lauko shook off his other glove and hurried to the bench. He did not return.
Upon immediate examination in the dressing room, Lauko was told the skate missed his eye. The good news did not eliminate the shock. After the Blackhawks’ medical staff stitched up his wound, Lauko cried.
Four days later, Lauko received another reminder of how lucky he had been.
Neck guard is staying
On Wednesday, Lauko also practiced with a neck guard. He was the only Bruin to do so.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) November 8, 2023
On Oct. 28, Lauko was stunned by Adam Johnson’s death in England’s Elite Ice Hockey League following a skate to the neck. It hit Lauko hard, especially following his close call.
“After the experience with the eye and after what happened in England, it’s too much of a risk,” Lauko said. “When you can put something on the neck, it’s always better. It’s the most vulnerable spot for us on the body. So I’m going to start wearing neck guard and wrist guards too. Just adding some layers of protection on those places that are on the line. It’s always better to be ready than sorry. I’ll wear the neck guard, I think, for the rest of my career.”
Lauko joked that with the cage and neck guard, he felt like a teenage boy joining the Bruins for a Make-A-Wish practice. He might have been closer to the truth than he knew.
Lauko is lucky to be seeing well again, to say nothing of practicing once more.
(Top photo of Jakub Lauko: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)