NHL referee Steve Kozari expected to recover after colliding with Tampa Bay player

Steve Kozari

PITTSBURGH — Longtime NHL referee Steve Kozari is expected to make a full recovery after he collided with Tampa Bay defenseman Haydn Fleury during Saturday’s game in Pittsburgh.

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Kozari was carted off the ice on a stretcher during the third period of the Penguins’ 5-4 victory against the Lightning, ESPN reported.

Fleury remained on his knees with his head on the ice after the collision before skating off under his own power, according to the Tampa Bay Times. He did not return to action.

Kozari, 50, remained motionless at first, according to the newspaper. After medical personnel rushed onto the ice, the referee was lifted onto a stretcher and taken to UPMC Mercy Hospital as a precaution.

“I caught it out of the corner of my eye. Tampa’s defenseman was coming off the bench -- I think both of them were looking at the puck, as was I -- so I caught it out of the corner of my eye,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “But at the last second, they collided and I believe they hit helmet to helmet, so it was really a scary collision. I don’t think Steve had the ability to break his fall when he fell to the ice. We certainly hope he’s going to be OK. That was a scary moment in the game.”

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper agreed.

“That was tough to watch,” Cooper told reporters. “But (Fleury), I went into the locker room during that pause. Naturally, he was a little shook up. It was just one of those plays that was kind of a freak accident. But hopefully, both guys will be OK.”

The NHL released a statement after the game, saying that Kozari was “conscious and alert, has use of all of his extremities and is expected to make a full recovery.”

Kozari has been a full-time NHL referee since 2007, the Times reported. He entered this season with 1,151 regular-season games and has worked four Stanley Cup finals.

On “Hockey Night in Canada” on CBC later Saturday night, it was reported that Kozari would be replaced for the game between Detroit and Buffalo, ESPN reported.

Pittsburgh clinched a playoff spot with its victory on Saturday, according to The Associated Press. Tampa Bay, which had won 10 of its last 12 games before Saturday, earned a postseason berth on Friday.

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