Jason Fitzsimmons was sitting high above the Horizon Center in the press box Monday night watching the Washington Capitals play the Pittsburgh Penguins when his cell phone began to chirp.
Fitzsimmons, who was a goalie and former head coach for the South Carolina Stingrays, checked the text message from a former teammate and discovered that something had happened to Dallas forward Rich Peverley during the Stars' NHL game with the Columbus Blue Jackets half a continent away.
Fitzsimmons, a scout for the Washington Capitals, quickly got up from his seat on press row to find a television.
As the Stingrays head coach, Fitzsimmons recruited and signed Peverley to his first professional contract in the summer of 2004 and watched the former St. Lawrence University star develop into an elite two-way player in the ECHL. Peverley played in 69 games with the Stingrays during that season, recording 30 goals and 28 assists.
When Fitzsimmons saw the highlights from the Dallas game and the reaction of the players on the ice, his heart sank. "Those guys don't react like that unless something really scary has happened," Fitzsimons said.
About six minutes into Monday night's game between Dallas and Columbus, the 31-year-old Peverley collapsed on the Stars bench. His teammates began slamming their sticks on the boards and ice to get the attention of game officials as Peverley was carried into the tunnel. Medical personnel revived Peverley with oxygen and a defibrillator and he was conscious minutes after the incident.
Play was halted and the game was eventually postponed.
Peverley was rushed to a local Dallas hospital with his wife, Nathalie, at his side. He was listed in stable condition Tuesday afternoon, undergoing a battery of tests to determine why he collapsed.
Peverley told The Post and Courier via a text Tuesday that he was "fine."
"Thanks for the support," Peverley said in the text. "I am very thankful for everyone that has kept me in their thoughts."
Peverley's former Stingrays teammates and coaches desperately tried to find out what they could on Monday. Trevor Johnson, Matt Reid, Nate Kiser and Ed Courtenay, who still live in the Lowcountry, were exchanging texts and emails hoping for an update on Peverley's condition.
"I was just kind of shocked when I first saw it," Reid said. "I'd heard that something had happened to a hockey player during a game, but when you find out it was someone you played with, that was a linemate, you just can't believe it. It kind of stuns you. He's such genuine person."
Former South Carolina head coach Jared Bednar was an assistant coach with the Stingrays when Peverley played in the Lowcountry. Bednar, now an assistant coach in the American Hockey League with Springfield, was involved in a similar incident last year.
Springfield winger Wade MacLeod collapsed on the Falcons' bench during the third period of a game after suffering a seizure. Like Monday's night Dallas game, that game was postponed as well.
It was later discovered that MacLeod had a brain tumor. MacLeod had surgery and is currently playing for the AHL's Toronto Marlies. Bednar said the NHL's decision to postpone Monday's game was the right call.
"It was a really scary incident," Bednar said. "You just don't want to play anymore at that point. As a player, even if it's an opponent, a guy you might not like, you still respect him. Professional hockey is a very small fraternity."
Peverley was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat in the preseason and underwent a medical procedure that kept him off the ice through the Stars' first regular-season game. He played in 60 games this season before sitting out last week's game against Columbus because he felt "strange" before a team flight. But Peverley returned to the ice for two games prior to Monday night.
Dallas forward Tyler Seguin, who came to the bench seconds before Peverley collapsed, thought his teammate was injured.
"I was right beside him there when it was all happening," Seguin told The Associated Press. "I thought he had broken his leg or something. It's going to be weird playing without him."
Dr. Gil Salazar of UT Southwestern Hospital said doctors succeeded in shocking Peverley's heart back into rhythm at the arena.
Dallas head coach Lindy Ruff said Peverley, who is third on the Stars team in scoring with seven goals and 23 assists, was talking soon after the incident, wanting to know how much time was left in the period and when he could return to the ice.
It was a comment that didn't surprise his former Stingray teammates.
"One second his heart is stopped and the next second he wants to get back in the game," Kiser said with a chuckle. "That's what you'd expect from a guy like Rich who loves the game as much as he does."
The team is scheduled to hold a press conference Wednesday to update Peverley's condition.
(The Associated Press contributed to this story)
Dallas Stars right wing Alex Chiasson (12) bows his head on the bench as defenseman Jordie Benn (24) takes a knee on the ice after play was stopped in the first period of an NHL Hockey game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Monday, March 10, 2014, in Dallas. Stars center Rich Peverly was taken to a hospital after a medical emergency. (AP Photo/Sharon Ellman)×
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