Fly­ers sup­port par­a­lyzed Hum­boldt player

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Dan Gel­ston

VOORHEES, N.J. » Ryan Straschnitzki felt at home as he was wheeled into a perch over­look­ing the ice at the Philadel­phia Fly­ers’ prac­tice fa­cil­ity.

Below him, Fly­ers prospects in the same age range as the 19-yearold Straschnitzki skated in drills and in a hurry to im­press, much like his days as a de­fense­man for the Hum­boldt Bron­cos be­fore the bus crash that left him par­a­lyzed from the chest down.

Philadel­phia gen­eral man­ager Ron Hex­tall and other mem­bers of the or­ga­ni­za­tion came to visit. De­fense­man Sam Morin heard Straschnitzki was in the build­ing and popped by for a chat.

The hope­ful Fly­ers paused dur­ing camp Fri­day and raised their sticks to­ward Straschnitzki for a tra­di­tional salute.

Straschnitzki was right where he wanted to be — at the rink, watch­ing the game he loves.

“Just the smell of the ice com­ing in to­day brought back so many mem­o­ries of your first time skat­ing ,” Straschnitzki said.

Straschnitzki met the coach­ing staff and some top prospects dur­ing a break in his re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion from the in­juries suf­fered in April when a bus car­ry­ing the Bron­cos to a play­off game col­lided with a semi-trailer at a ru­ral in­ter­sec­tion, killing 16. Straschnitzki was among 13 more in­jured.

Straschnitzki was wheeled on a stretcher into Shriners Hos­pi­tals for Chil­dren in Philadel­phia on May 31 and ex­pected to re­hab there for six to eight weeks. He has used weights al­most daily to work on his arm mus­cles dur­ing phys­io­ther­apy ses­sions and has walked on a tread­mill with the help of ther­a­pists. Sit­ting on a mas­sage ta­ble, he’s used laser fo­cus for the sim­ple task of ty­ing the laces on his sneak­ers.

“I’ve made quite a bit of progress,” he said. “The re­hab pushed me to my lim­its.”

Straschnitzki needs two hours in the morn­ing just to com­plete rou­tine tasks like a shower and get­ting dressed be­fore he starts his ex­er­cises. He re­habs for about two hours, breaks for lunch, then has two more re­hab ses­sions be­fore he ends the day in ex­haus­tion. With the same tire­less work ethic he used to move up the hockey ranks, Straschnitzki said he was told he could re­turn ahead of sched­uled to his Air­drie, Al­berta, home for the first time in al­most eight months next week­end.

His fam­ily home is un­der­go­ing a $200,000 ren­o­va­tion to make it hand­i­capped ac­ces­si­ble and the Straschnitzkis will live in a ho­tel for the sum­mer un­til con­struc­tion is com­pleted.

The Cal­gary Flames have talked to Straschnitzki once he’s set­tled about a pos­si­ble job in the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“Hockey is my life,” he said. “I’ve grown up talk­ing about it, liv­ing it, play­ing it. I think if there’s a job op­por­tu­nity down the road, I think it’s def­i­nitely op­tion. Right now, though, I’m just fo­cused on heal­ing first and get­ting bet­ter. We’ll see what hap­pens.”

The NHL has ral­lied around the sur­vivors and fam­i­lies of the vic­tims. Fly­ers de­fense­man An­drew Mac­Don­ald of­fered the Straschnitzkis use of his home and car when the fam­ily was in Philadel­phia. Hex­tall, who stopped to com­pose him­self at times, said the tragedy has brought out the best in hockey.

“Ryan’s an in­spir­ing young man. He’s spe­cial, he re­ally is,” said Hex­tall, a for­mer star goalie for the Fly­ers said. “He’s not feel­ing sorry for him­self.”

Straschnitzki was among 10 sur­vivors at the NHL Awards last week in Las Ve­gas at the in­vi­ta­tion of the league and NHLPA. It was the first time so many Bron­cos had been to­gether since the crash. They wore Hum­boldt jerseys and head coach Darcy Hau­gan, who was killed in the crash, was hon­ored with the in­au­gu­ral Wil­lie O’Ree Com­mu­nity Hero Award.

“They’re your brothers for life now,” Straschnitzki said. “Just be­ing able to see them, it’s like time froze. You’re in the room again, you’re just en­joy­ing the mo­ment be­ing with them. We all heal in our own ways. Just be­ing with them at the NHL awards was amaz­ing.”

Tom Straschnitzki said he’s tried to keep his son’s spir­its high dur­ing the gru­el­ing re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion process.

“When he’s down, we just try to push him back up and keep him on the straight and nar­row,” he said.

Straschnitzki dreams of hit­ting the ice again, this time play­ing sledge hockey — ba­si­cally hockey on sleds for play­ers with phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties.

“It’s my life, so I’d love to do it,” he said.

Straschnitzki has never wanted to dis­tance him­self from the sport he’s played since he was a boy. But find­ing his way back to hockey in any ca­pac­ity per­haps re­mains a dis­tant goal.

“I know it’s go­ing to take time,” he said. “I just need to be pa­tient.”

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