Times Staff Writer

By necessity, the Red Wings have become good at this.

Better than they should have to be, really, because this is the second time in too short a span that they have seen a teammate fall and not get up, twice that they’ve learned that doing all the right things does not guarantee that life will be smooth or sweet.

Defenseman Jiri Fischer, as apparently healthy a specimen as ever skated on ice, a man whose teammates said never drank or ate fast food, collapsed and lost consciousness on the bench Monday during the Red Wings’ game against Nashville. For reasons doctors can’t explain but might be related to a thickened heart wall, the 25-year-old Czech’s heart lost its rhythm and he went into convulsions.

He was saved by the team doctor’s quick action in administering CPR and the proximity of a defibrillator to jolt his heart back to its normal beat. He was stabilized at a Detroit hospital, where he remained until Wednesday.


“Let’s be honest,” Red Wing Coach Mike Babcock said after his team’s 3-1 loss to the Mighty Ducks at the Arrowhead Pond on Friday. “You can’t go through something like that and not understand that family and being alive is way more important than hockey. It just is.”

Fischer is resting comfortably at home, team spokesman John Hahn said, but he’s unlikely to resume physical activity for at least a month. No one knows if it will be safe for him to play hockey again.

“Hopefully they figure out exactly what went wrong,” forward Kirk Maltby said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be corrected or can be, but we hope he’s going to be able to lead a normal life from here on out.”

If Fischer’s promising career has ended, he still may be infinitely more fortunate than Vladimir Konstantinov, whose brain and body were irreparably damaged when the limousine in which he was riding hit a tree on his way home from a party that celebrated the Red Wings’ 1997 Stanley Cup championship.

Konstantinov, teammate Viacheslav Fetisov and team masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov did what they were supposed to do. Anticipating they would drink at the party, they hired a limousine. The driver, who, it turned out, was unlicensed, careened into a tree -- leaving Konstantinov brain-damaged and Mnatsakanov in a wheelchair.

From tragedy the Red Wings drew strength. They dedicated the season to the injured duo and won the Cup again in 1998; Konstantinov beamed from his wheelchair as team captain Steve Yzerman gently placed the gleaming silver trophy on his lap before anyone else was allowed to touch it, a poignant and unforgettable tableau.

“There’s a few of us still here that went through that, but that’s not an experience I think you really learn from,” Maltby said. “It’s not like mentally you get stronger because of that.

“You’re worried. You’re scared. It’s a scary situation. So when it happens, it’s hard to get the things that were happening, with reviving [Fischer], out of your mind. But come game time, it’s hockey and we’ve got to be ready to go.”


Maltby was on that 1998 team. So are the others who form the Red Wings’ steel core -- Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Tomas Holmstrom, Kris Draper and Nicklas Lidstrom. They are earnest about getting back to business but are still startled by sudden and painful jabs: Shanahan said he couldn’t help but think of Fischer on Wednesday, during the team’s first game since the defenseman’s collapse, “when you see signs out there reminding you, signs that say, ‘Get Well, Fisch.’ ”

He added, “You’re never prepared. I think we learned from when Vladdie had his accident that, I don’t want to say perspective, because you don’t have to wait for something like this to happen to have perspective, but it’s a reminder.”

Life and the NHL season do go on. Although the Red Wings hung Fischer’s jersey in his empty locker at Joe Louis Arena on Wednesday, they did not take it with them for games Friday at Anaheim, today at San Jose and Monday at Staples Center, where they will play the Kings.

“We’re not going to try to turn it into a sports cliche,” Shanahan said. “It’s something that’s separate from the game of hockey, and we’re not going to try to prostitute it into wins and losses.”


They have won one game and lost one since, starting with a 7-3 trouncing of Colorado on Wednesday that was fueled by the emotion of their home fans. They were less energetic against the Ducks, less aggressive in going to the net. Perhaps it was because the schedule sent them to Anaheim for a game the afternoon after Thanksgiving. Perhaps it was because the Ducks played better and deserved to win.

And it could have been because they missed Fischer, whose average ice time of 20 minutes 43 seconds a game ranks third on the team. That would have been a reasonable excuse, but Maltby rejected it.

“Having the Jiri Fischer incident is no excuse for the way we play on the ice,” he said. “It’s not like it’s because we don’t want to think about it ... but come game time, we have to be ready to go.”

They will go on and they will be strong because that has become part of who they are.


“This isn’t about him,” Babcock said. “This team is happy to have Fisch as a part of our team, but we’re going out and playing the games because we’re professionals and it’s our passion to play the games.”