It’s only his fourth time strapped into the sled, but it is clear 19-year-old Ryan Straschnitzki has taken to sledge hockey.
The Humboldt Broncos bus crash survivor spent an hour on the ice at Pason Centennial Arena in Okotoks Thursday afternoon with former Team Canada sledge hockey player Chris Cederstrand, working on different aspects of the game.
The bus crash on April 6 killed 16 people — many of them fellow teammates — and left Straschnitzki paralyzed from the chest down.
But it didn’t take long for Straschnitzki to set new goals for himself. Those goals included a return to the ice.
“It was pretty recent after the accident. I’m not sure in ICU what day it was or anything, but I knew my legs weren’t functioning properly. I still wanted to be part of the game and I told my parents that I’m going to win a gold medal for Canada someday,” Straschnitzki said.
“That’s my long-term goal, obviously, and with going on the ice every day, I think with lots of practice, it can be accomplished.”
While recovering at Foothills hospital in Calgary, Straschnitzki was introduced to Cederstrand and the two stayed in touch.
The former WHLer had his career cut short due to concussions, then lost his right leg in a road construction accident. For years, he went through a difficult recovery – physically and mentally – until he was introduced to sledge hockey.
“Getting back into sport was something that really helped with my recovery after my accident. I did a multitude of different sports and ultimately it was getting back into hockey that was really my niche. It was where my heart was,” Cederstrand said.
“Having gone through everything I’ve gone through and being that elite-level athlete and having it taken away—I know what it feels like.”
Cederstrand said Straschnitzki is making big strides in his playing already, a remarkable feat given the extent of his injuries. Sledge hockey players usually rely heavily on core strength – something Straschnitzki is limited in with his paralysis.
“For Ryan, it just shows the kind of character and the kind of drive that he has as a person. You set a challenge in front of him and off he goes,” Cederstrand said.
“Obviously I have some motivating factors with the loss of my teammates. I keep them in the back of my mind and also that gold medal is also a goal of mine… so I just push myself every day,” Straschnitzki said.
“People might doubt you and say, ‘Oh, you can’t do this’ but I want to prove them wrong. It’s just a new way to adapt. I know I’ve always been a quick learner and adapted at different levels, so I think this is a good step in the right direction.”
On top of sledge hockey, Straschnitzki continues attending intense physiotherapy three to four times a week. He plans to add regular workouts and more on-ice sledge hockey sessions to his already demanding schedule.
“Come September, if he wants to be out on the ice five nights a week, we’ll have him out five nights of the week,” Cederstrand said.
Straschnitzki will soon have the opportunity to put his new-found skills to the test. Both he and Cederstrand are participating in the Cowboys ‘N Sleds charity sledge hockey game on September 15.
The event will feature the biggest names in chuckwagon racing as well as country music star George Canyon. Jerseys worn by the celebrities will be auctioned off with the proceeds going towards the StrazStrong campaign and STARS air ambulance.
The event is being held at WinSport’s Markin MacPhail Centre.