Flyers support Humboldt player paralyzed in bus crash

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VOORHEES, N.J. (AP) 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-year-old 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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Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.