More than 1,000 people attended the WinSport Markin Macphail Centre on Saturday for Ryan Straschnitzki’s first-ever sledge hockey game at the Cowboy ‘n Sleds event.
The hockey player was left paralyzed from the chest down in the horrific Humboldt Broncos bus crash earlier this year and has returned to the ice after five months of rehab.
“It was exhilarating. I mean, all the people that came out to support and the environment and everyone that came out and played, it was just amazing,” Straschnitzki said.
“The music was going, the fans were loud, it was just like playing Humboldt again.”
In addition to paralysis, the 19-year-old suffered a spinal injury, broken ribs, a broken collar bone, a punctured lung and bleeding in his head and pelvis after the bus crash on April 6. Straschnitzki has since been in rehab, pursuing his dream of someday winning a gold medal for Canada.
Saturday brought back memories for the Airdrie man.
“When I was five years old and laced up the skates, it was one of the happiest times of my life,” Straschnitzki said. “And I was back out there again enjoying the moment.”
That moment was complete with a sweet, sweet victory: Straz scored twice in his team’s 5-4 win.
He competed against his dad, Tom, who spoke of the skill it takes to play sledge hockey as well as his son’s dedication.
“[The support] is what drives Ryan,” he said. “He reads all the stuff too. He doesn’t think he’s the inspiration, he thinks everyone else is. He doesn’t want to give up either… That’s his drive: his community and the team.”
For several high-calibre athletes competing in the event, hockey is still hockey — no matter how you play it.
“There’s a sense when you’re a hockey player you get on the ice, you enjoy the smell of it, the crispness of the ice,” said Cassie Campbell-Pascall, an Olympic hockey player and Straz teammate. “There’s just something about it that just makes you feel better, and I think in his situation, being on the ice is somewhat therapeutic, not only physically but I think, more importantly, mentally.”
At the event, fans had the chance to meet the players, including country singer George Canyon and drivers from the World Professional Chuckwagon Association, and were treated to a concert after the game.
Funds raised support STARS Air Ambulance and the StrazStrong Foundation.
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