AHL enforcer Kale Kessy KO'd during fight, smashes head on ice

Hershey Bears goaltender Vitek Vanecek looks on as teammate Kale Kessy is stretchered off the ice after being knocked unconscious in a fight on Tuesday night. (Kyle Mace/Chocolate Hockey)

All those in attendance at Hershey’s Giant Center on Tuesday night witnessed one of the most disturbing sights imaginable.

Midway through the second period of an AHL game between the visiting Charlotte Checkers and Hershey Bears, Checkers defenseman Derek Sheppard and Bears forward Kale Kessy dropped the gloves in the neutral zone. As the two squared up, they removed their helmets before throwing fists.

The arena was boisterous until Sheppard caught Kessy clean in the face with an enormous right hand.

Kessy was knocked unconscious immediately by the blow and crumpled to the ice with Sheppard on top of him. Kessy’s fall resulted in the 27-year-old whacking his head off the ice.

Sheppard and the game’s two linesmen — Dr. Bob Goodman, an anesthesiologist per ChocolateHockey.com, and Michael Magee — quickly realized Kessy’s harrowing situation and frantically called for medical assistance.

Trained individuals from both teams flooded onto the ice and eight minutes later, Kessy was stretchered off the playing surface with an oxygen mask over his face, per Cindy Boren of The Washington Post.

According to a tweet posted on Tuesday night to the official Twitter account of the Hershey Bears, Kessy “lost, but regained consciousness on the ice. He is alert, and in stable condition, and being transported to a local medical facility.”

Before leaving the rink, he delivered a simple message to his teammates.

“Go win the game,” Kessy said to his squad, according to the team’s Twitter account.

With Hershey up 4-1 at the time, the teams returned to their dressing rooms while staff members from both sides and the game’s officials discussed whether or not they should continue. Following a 45-minute delay, the contest resumed.

“Once everything settled down and guys kind of refocused over in their dressing room and in ours, we came up with the idea, ‘Let’s play this out’,” said Hershey’s Vice President of Hockey Operations, Bryan Helmer, per ChocolateHockey.com.

“I wasn’t going to force any players to play in that game that couldn’t get himself up for it,” said Charlotte’s head coach Ryan Warsofsky, according to ChocolateHockey.com. “We talked as a group and took a little time.”

Powered by the first professional hat-trick of Joe Snively’s career, the Bears went on to win the game 6-1. The result wasn’t top of mind for many following the final buzzer, though.

“He’s doing better,” said Hershey’s head coach Spencer Carbery after the game. “CT scan came back positive, but they’re going to keep him overnight just for observation. All the reports back from the hospital are positive.”

The team announced on Wednesday that Kessy was discharged from the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center the following morning.

“I would like to send my heartfelt thank you to Hershey Bears fans for their thoughts, prayers, and support following my injury last night,” Kessy said through a statement released on the Bears’ Twitter account on Wednesday.

“Additionally, I’d like to thank our trainers, doctors, EMTs, Bob Goodman, and Milton S. Hershey Medical Center for providing me immediate and exceptional care. I am feeling better today, and I look forward to re-joining my Hershey Bears teammates soon.”

The traumatic event brings back memories of another AHL fight from earlier this season. Back in October 2019, Colby Cave of the Bakersfield Condors knocked out Martin Pospisil of the Stockton Heat with a devastating blow. The only difference was Pospisil was wearing his helmet and didn’t fall directly onto his head when he plummeted to the ice.

Neither Kessy or Sheppard have played an NHL game. After being selected in the fourth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Phoenix Coyotes, Kessy finished off his WHL career before bouncing between the AHL and ECHL since the 2013-14 season.

A prototypical enforcer from a time that has basically come and gone in hockey, Kessy has been involved in 135 fights dating back to the 2009-10 season, according to hockeyfights.com via TSN’s Rick Westhead.

In 24 games this season, he has no points and 102 penalty minutes.

Sheppard is no stranger fisticuffs either, though. During his final season with the QMJHL’s Gatineau Olympiques, he fought 20 times in 50 games, according to hockeyfights.com. Between his time with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades and AHL’s Checkers, he’s picked up six fighting majors in 24 games.

ChocolateHockey.com is a website focused on covering everything related to the AHL’s Hershey Bears.

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