Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Malarchuk, at Long Last, Has His Life under Control

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Malarchuk, at Long Last, Has His Life under Control

Article excerpt

They like shiny things - a snap button, a belt buckle, maybe a camera if it's gleaming in the Las Vegas sun. They like shiny things enough to take them; and if it isn't connected to you and you aren't ready for their sneak attacks, Clint Malarchuk's emus will take your shiny thing from you.

There are 16 emus in Malarchuk's pens, and even Malarchuk, whose livelihood depends on reaction and split-second reflex, isn't quick enough to parry their bob-and-weave pecks. At 34, with 10 years of National Hockey League games behind him, Malarchuk is still quick enough to stop a 100-mph slapshot. But he isn't quick enough to stop one of his emus from stealing an electronic flash that belongs to Steve Levin, a photographer for The Sporting News whose own reaction time in this case is pathetically slow.

Webster's calls them large, fast-running, flightless Australian birds related to the ostrich. Malarchuk calls them his future.

And for the first time in his life, Malarchuk's future is a shiny thing.

Even God might not conjure up a slice of heaven that looks like Malarchuk's two-acre emu and horse ranch on the outskirts of Vegas, the sinningest city in the United States. Still, somebody, somewhere, chose it as the venue for one of life's little miracles: a good man, found.

When it's all said and done, the final say probably came from Kelli, Malarchuk's 9-year-old daughter. It happened in the summer of '93 on a drive that took her and her father to San Diego to pick up the shreds of Malarchuk's one-year stop with the International Hockey League's Gulls, then to Las Vegas for a few days of talks with one of the IHL's new teams, the Thunder, then back to Alberta.

Kelli Malarchuk chose Las Vegas as a new home for her alcoholic, obsessive-compulsive wreck of a goaltending father still staggering from his second failed marriage.

Kids say the darndest things.

"I've never had more peace in my life than I do since I came here," says Malarchuk, at home among his 16 emus, his three horses, his two dogs, his daughter (Kelli visits from Australia, where she now lives, during her school break in December and January) and his girlfriend, Christy Canatsey. "Look at what I have here - I mean, this ranch and everything. I couldn't do this in a lot of cities. I'd have to be two hours outside of town and commuting in to play hockey. It just wouldn't be possible."

In the distance is the Vegas Strip with all its temptations. In the distance, too, is the inferno of anxiety that demolished an NHL career and nearly destroyed a life. Malarchuk's redemption is this: Those distances are growing.

Trouble sometimes changes a man's perspective on other troubles. Malarchuk, for instance, is an alcoholic only a year and a half into recovery, but alcoholism is a minor league malady in the catalogue of misery that marks his life before Vegas. It's an afterthought. Oh yeah, I'm an alcoholic, too.

Before the alcoholism came the jugular vein, which was severed in Buffalo, N.Y., March 22, 1989, by a skate blade in a collision with the St. Louis Blues' Steve Tuttle. As Malarchuk's blood squirted, with every beat of his heart, several feet out onto the ice in front of the net, he looked up at an official and said, "Am I going to live?"

He lived, but barely.

Before the jugular vein came the osteomyelitis, which nearly cost him a leg when he was 17. A basic knee operation to repair some torn cartilage turned into a staph infection that kept him in isolation in the hospital for two months. It went to the bone and looked to be spreading to the rest of his skeleton, which would have been fatal. Doctors decided on amputation if one last try at an antibiotic didn't work.

It worked, in the nick of time.

And before, during and after the osteomyelitis and the jugular vein and the alcoholism came the obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the most frightening of them all. …

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