March 28, 2003

Exter's Recovery Season's Best Story

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It’s officially midnight right now. It’s officially the first day of the NCAA tournament — really it is. In about 16 hours Harvard kicks off the festivities against Boston University in Worcester. And this is just the beginning of the lucky (or talented) 16 teams that will be ice dancing.

The luckiest hockey player right now is an hour away from Worcester, in a hospital room at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. After 19 days in a drug induced coma, Joe Exter, the senior goaltender for Merrimack College, was conscious and joking with friends and family. Exter was critically injured when he jumped for a loose puck and unfortunately also into the oncoming Patrick Eaves’ way during the opening round of the Hockey East tournament against Boston College.

Whether Eaves could have stopped or not is trivial considering the massive brawl which ensued while Exter lay on the ice with two fractures in his skull.

The scene sounds like a real life horror film. We can tolerate it when professional athletes are injured — they are paid to put their bodies through extreme physical tests. But when a college athlete, a young, unpaid (well for the most part) student with a promising future struggles for his or her life playing the sport he or she loves, we truly hope for a happy, or at least not a tragic, ending.

Exter was, in fact, struggling for his life. The severity of immediate seizure he suffered was manifested in the blood hemorrhaging from his ears. Boston College physicians rushed to his aid as fans hoping for a good hockey game witnessed one of the most gruesome events in college hockey — perhaps in collegiate sports.

Afterwards Exter’s health vacillated between critical and serious as several best wish threads and websites started popping up over the Internet. It’s funny how people band together when faced with a tragedy of which the outcome they have no control over. Even at Cornell, blue and yellow ribbons, Merrimack’s school colors, shimmered through the crowd.

While websites such as and The Boston Globe kept tabs on Exter’s status, each successive article reiterated the former one. Exter was still unconscious, doctors are trying to stabilize his brain pressure, he was injured …

Hoping and wishing and praying that someone will recover only goes so far when he is unconscious, drug-induced or not, for long periods of time.

Last Tuesday, a ray of hope came through on the wires. Exter was not only awake and responsive, but walking around the hospital corridors. His Merrimack coach, Chris Serino, addressed the media after visiting Exter. It seems that the goalie has weathered the worst. He is in stable condition.

He is still not quite out of harms way yet. Although he was moved from the intensive care unit to intermediate care and has hockey fans heaving a sigh of relief, only a brain surgeon would be able to fully assess Exter’s condition.

No one is feeling better about Exter’s recovery than Patrick Eaves, though. He will be watching the rest of B.C.’s games from the bench, unless the team makes it to the Frozen Four, but he doesn’t have to suffer from the guilt associated with the hit that left Exter unconscious.

Perhaps Exter will be watching the NCAA tournament, wishing that he could have been there between the pipes. While his college hockey career may be over, though, his next career is well within sight, which is more than someone could have said two weeks ago.

Archived article by Amanda Angel