Straschnitzki makes new life year after Humboldt crash

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Tom Straschnitzki was wrangling his fussy youngest child when his iPhone buzzed. His hands full, Tom put the phone on speaker and heard the terrifying sound of his oldest son calling from a bus and screaming for help.

”Dad, you’ve got to help this time! You’ve got to save the boys! You’ve gotta help!” Ryan Straschnitzki pleaded.

Straschnitzki’s transport bus was on the way back from his rehabilitation session and it had been rear-ended by a truck at a red light. The impact from the December accident hurled the 19-year-old former hockey prospect from his wheelchair to the floor. The fender-bender not far from his home outside Calgary, Alberta, came 10 months after a devastating collision on a Saskatchewan highway that left several members of his Humboldt Broncos teammates and coaches among the 16 dead , a country in mourning and every parent who has ever put a young athlete on a bus shaken.

Tom and his wife, Michelle, were panicked that their son, paralyzed from the chest down, was in yet another bus accident. They were also bewildered by their son imploring his dad to help other hockey players when he was alone on the transport bus.

Tom tried to talk his son down, bring his mind back to the present and promised him there was no one else to save. Straschnitzki hung up and his parents waited for a few frightening minutes until he calmly called back and said he was fine. He would get on another bus and head home.

Though he downplayed the episode months later, it was no less traumatic for a family still reeling from the one of the worst tragedies in Canadian sports history. In the year since the April 6 accident, grieving families have tried to stitch their lives back together, most moving on without their sons. The Straschnitzkis have a new life, recast as a family of six stuffed in hotel rooms, relying on donations to stretch their meager budget and making sure their son can still live his best life.

”This is the life we have now,” Tom Straschnitzki said. ”And we’re not going to let anyone cry for us.”

Ryan Straschnitzki wears a big smile as he wheels into a Philadelphia hotel lobby in a Philadelphia Flyers sweatshirt and a backward baseball cap. He was in town for a recent checkup at Shriners Hospitals for Children and had spent the previous night at the Flyers game.

Straschnitzki, who turns 20 on April 20, is upbeat in public and has tried to stay positive throughout his daily physiotherapy sessions, sledge hockey practice, interviews and even just the joys of being a young adult. He hangs out with friends, watches Netflix, plays videogames and dabbles with the idea of working for an NHL team or becoming a motivational speaker.

Straschnitzki is idealistic about his recovery and, like countless athletes who suffered physical setbacks, refuses to let doctors define his fate. His playing career snatched away, Straschnitzki has taken assisted steps on a treadmill with the aid of therapists.

”I’m pretty strong-minded,” he said. ”It kind of got to me that, there are ups and downs, but don’t let it get to you and keep pushing forward.”

The Broncos were just teens from across Canada with eyes on hockey scholarships and the NHL when their bus left for a playoff game in Nipawin, Saskatchewan. The survivors now are spread out – center Brayden Camrud returned to play this season for the Broncos – and most sustained permanent physical injuries and other health issues. They remain bonded through a group text chat where they talk hockey or just check in and make sure everyone is OK.

”I’m glad at where the boys are right now,” Ryan Straschnitzki said. ”They’re healing in their own ways. We’re there for each other. The guys who aren’t with us anymore, they left an impact on us. I think we use that as motivation for everything we do now.”

His new life starts with sled hockey – known as sledge hockey outside the U.S. – for players with physical disabilities. Players use two sticks, which have a spike-end for pushing and a blade-end for shooting. The recent stop at Shriners cleared him for contact, reigniting dreams of representing his country at the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games in Beijing. Straschnitzki has found refuge from the dark days on the ice and plays now not to make a team or impress a coach, but for fun.

”It’s just trying not to get in my own head,” he said. ”My way to escape from all that is on the ice.”

Straschnitzki has mostly vivid memories of the accident but largely avoids describing it. His father has no doubt Straschnitzki is dealing with guilt for simply being alive while so many of his buddies are gone.

The Broncos rebuilt their roster this season and made the playoffs. Straschnitzki couldn’t watch. He skipped the memorial banner ceremony and has yet to return for a game.

”I’m not sure when I’ll go back,” he said. ”I just don’t want to. I don’t think I’m ready. It’s kind of a mix of all sorts of things. I think when I am ready, I’ll go back and visit.”

Tom thinks his son could benefit from counseling, but that ”it takes Ryan a lot to trust people.”

Tom was laid off from New Star Energy shortly after the accident and Michelle Straschnitzki is also out of work even as their lives remain impossibly hectic. There’s always somewhere to be, a function, a trip, rehab, and all the commitments for their other children. They are expected to move into a new house on April 27.

”We’ve got a paralyzed kid here. We need help,” Tom said. ”Jobs are hard right now in Alberta.”

The agonizing reminders of the wreck loom large as the anniversary approaches. Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, the truck driver who caused the crash, was sentenced last month to eight years in prison . He had pleaded guilty earlier this year to 29 counts of dangerous driving.

On Saturday, the Straschnitzkis will continue their push from helplessness to hopeful and focus on the possibilities ahead. Ryan Straschnitzki just wants to go to the Calgary Flames game Saturday night and not think about the anniversary.

”That’s the day our life changed,” Tom Straschnitzki said. ”This year is the year we begin again.”

The Buzzer: Blue Jackets hold on for six wins in a row

Blue Jackets six wins in a row the buzzer
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Three Stars

1. Pierre-Luc Dubois, Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets continue their run of resiliency by fighting back from three deficits (1-0, 2-1, and 3-2) to win in regulation. Their narrow victory against the Jets pushes the Blue Jackets to six wins in a row. With that, they tie the Panthers for the hottest streak entering the All-Star break.

Dubois ended up as Wednesday’s only three-point player, collecting them all on assists. That outburst leaves Dubois with 38 points in 51 games this season.

While those aren’t astronomical numbers, his strong all-around play confirms to me that PLD isn’t just a product of Artemi Panarin.

Now, does Panarin boost the numbers of about everyone he plays with, though? Sure, but Dubois is proving that he can stand on his own.

2. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Columbus Blue Jackets

Bjorkstrand merits an argument as the top star of the day. If nothing else, the winger is hotter than PLD — and plenty of others — if you zoom out.

Bjorkstrand scored two goals for Columbus for the third game in a row. In all three cases, Bjorkstrand collected the game-winning goal. Hmm … maybe Bjorkstrand really deserves that top star nod?

Watch out for a possible strong finish to 2019-20. Last season, Bjorkstrand scored more goals (16) and points (22) in 34 games after the 2019 All-Star break than he did in 43 games before it (seven goals, 14 points). While I’d chalk quite a bit of that up to linemates — wait for it, Bjorkstrand enjoyed some nice Panarin reps, and some Matt Duchene ones too — Bjorkstrand is also one of those snipers who can get on a hot streak. If he repeats history, it could be a big difference-maker for a Blue Jackets team forced to scratch and claw.

3. Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild

Flip Zadina might deserve the nod more than Staal. Zadina, like Bjorkstrand, generated his two points by way of goals. The rookie also affected the game in other ways, firing seven shots on goal and drawing a late penalty that gave Detroit a slight chance for a comeback.

The Wild won, however, and that strikes me as a tiebreaker. That said, even choosing the best Wild skater is tough. I’m giving Staal the edge because both of his points (1G, 1A) were of the primary variety. (Mats Zuccarello‘s 1G, 1A includes a secondary helper). Mathew Dumba makes a strong argument with his two assists and +3 rating, so really, it’s a matter of taste.

Either way, it’s surreal that Staal recently reached 1,000 points. It might even make some of us feel old.

/makes old man noise just from shifting in seat

Highlights

Wednesday provided us with a scant two games, so why not just enjoy clips from both? If you want a standout moment, I’d argue Seth Jones‘ goal was the pick:

Here are the highlights for Minnesota dominating the second period to beat Detroit:

Factoids

  • Again, the Blue Jackets extended their winning streak to six by coming back. It’s apparently their 15th comeback win of 2019-20, second only to the Capitals’ 16 for the most in the league, according to NHL PR.
  • Bjorkstrand became the first Blue Jackets player to score multiple goals in three games or more, via NHL PR. I’m a little surprised Rick Nash never managed that when he was their go-to guy and a premiere power forward.
  • Wednesday marked the first multi-goal game of Zadina’s career. The 20-year-old joins select Red Wings company.
  • Kyle Connor collected his 15th goal since Dec. 1. Auston Matthews is the only player with more (18) during that span, according to NHL PR. Connor has 25 goals overall in 2019-20.
  • Sportsnet stats notes the Jets are 1-6-0 in their last seven, and other numbers are disturbing.

Scores

CBJ 4 – WIN 3
MIN 4 – DET 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Wild avoid Red Wings upset, now five points from playoff spot

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If the Wild want to make a playoff push, they can’t afford being upset by a team like the Red Wings. Detroit gave Minnesota a scare by going up 2-1 in the first period, but the Wild ultimately won 4-2 on Wednesday.

Wild move within five points from playoff spot

Losing against dreadful Detroit would have been brutal for Minnesota. Instead, the Wild improved to 23-21-6 on the season, or 52 points in 50 games played.

Wild fans searching for optimism will find a mixed bag. The Wild hold an advantage over the two wild-card teams in games in hand, yet the Predators have a bigger advantage in that regard (Nashville: 47 GP) while sitting at 51 points. Take a look at the races for the wild-card spots:

Wild playoff wild card race

Not great, but it could be worse, too.

The larger plus is that, so far, the Wild have mostly taken advantage of a long stretch of home games, as originally discussed here.

Jan. 16: vs. Tampa Bay (3-2 win)
Jan. 18: vs. Dallas (7-0 win)
Jan. 20: vs. Florida (5-4 loss)
Jan. 22: vs. Detroit (4-2 win)
Feb. 1: vs. Boston
Feb. 4: vs. Chicago
Feb. 6: vs. Vancouver
Feb. 7: at Dallas
Feb. 9: vs. Colorado
Feb. 11: vs. Vegas
Feb. 13: vs. Rangers
Feb. 15: vs. San Jose

Three out of four wins is a pretty good start (but a bad “Meatloaf” cover). Once the Wild get back into the groove on Feb. 1, it’s key to exploit that stretch of seven of eight in Minnesota.

Minnesota gutted Wednesday out, dominating the second period in goals (3-0) and shots on goal (14-4). Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Mathew Dumba, and Mats Zuccarello triggered the rally:

Wild need Dubnyk to rebound

Bruce Boudreau deserves credit for molding the Wild into a dominant defensive team. While their scorers won’t terrify opponents, they’ve generally been competent enough.

But if the Wild are going to complete a difficult push into the playoffs, they need Devan Dubnyk to rebound.

Dubnyk came into Wednesday with a troubling .892 save percentage, versus a .915 mark for his career. Just about every metric points to the Wild providing a nurturing atmosphere for their goalies, so the results need to start rolling in.

Granted, sometimes luck just isn’t on your side:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Brady Tkachuk replaces Auston Matthews at 2020 NHL All-Star Game

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Due to what the Toronto Maple Leafs are calling a lingering wrist injury, Auston Matthews will not participate in the 2020 NHL All-Star game this weekend in St. Louis, the league announced on Wednesday.

He will be replaced on the roster and in the skills competition by Ottawa Senators forward Brady Tkachuk.

Even though he will not participate in any of the events or the game itself, Matthews will still travel to St. Louis for the weekend.

Matthews is in the middle of a career year for the Maple Leafs and has already scored 34 goals and 57 points in his first 49 games of the season. He has scored at least 34 goals every year he has been in the league and is already just six goals away from matching his career high. The only thing that has kept him from hitting the 40-goal mark every season is injuries. It is not yet known if this injury will sideline him for any games when the Maple Leafs return from the break, but he has not missed any games as of yet this season. According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, Matthews’ agent said the injury has been bothering Matthews for the past three weeks. The Maple Leafs have not played since Jan. 18 when they lost at home, 6-2, to the Chicago Blackhawks. Their next game is on Jan. 27 against the Nashville Predators.

The Maple Leafs will still be represented by forward Mitch Marner and goalie Frederik Andersen.

As for Tkachuk, the 2018 No. 4 overall pick is in his second year with the Senators. In 48 games he has 15 goals and 27 points.

He will join teammate Anthony Duclair at the game, as well as his older brother, Matthew Tkachuk, who will be there representing the Calgary Flames.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Red Wings vs. Wild livestream: How to watch Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota Wild. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Minnesota made the playoffs six straight years from 2012-13 to 2017-18 before falling short of the postseason last year. A slow and inconsistent start to 2020 (3-4-1 since Jan. 1) has kept the Wild at the bottom of the standings and just when they put forth a dominant effort with a 7-0 win against Dallas on Saturday, they followed things up with a last-second loss to Florida on Monday.

Sitting last in the Central Division, the Wild will play the fourth game of a season-long seven-game homestand (separated by All-Star break). This homestand is part of a stretch in which Minnesota has 11 home games in a 12-game span and on the season they have fared much better at home.

Monday’s loss was not without positives as Minnesota went 2-for-4 on the power play, their fourth straight game with a power-play goal and second straight with multiple PP goals after going 3-for-3 on the PP Saturday against Dallas. It was just over a week ago that Minnesota went 0-for-5 on the PP vs. Vancouver and committed eight penalties (VAN went 1-for-8 on PP in that game and won 4-1).

With 28 points through 50 games, the Red Wings are on pace to finish this season with just 46 points, which would be the fewest points by any team in an 82-game season since the expansion Atlanta Thrashers in 1999-00 (39 points). It would also be Detroit’s worst season since 1985-86, when they finished with 40 points in an 80-game season.

Detroit enters this game having lost five straight (0-4-1) and is coming off a 6-3 loss at Colorado on Monday in which they were outshot 46-25. The Red Wings are 1-for-18 in their last five games on the power play and have given up a league-high nine shorthanded goals this season.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Detroit Red Wings at Minnesota Wild
WHERE: Xcel Energy Center
WHEN: Wednesday, Jan. 22, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Red Wings-Wild stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

RED WINGS
Tyler BertuzziDylan LarkinFilip Zadina
Robby FabbriValtteri FilppulaGivani Smith
Darren HelmLuke GlendeningAdam Erne
Brendan PerliniChristoffer EhnJustin Abdelkader

Patrik NemethFilip Hronek
Trevor DaleyMadison Bowey
Dennis Cholowski – Alex Biega

Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard

WILD
Zach PariseEric StaalMats Zuccarello
Jason ZuckerRyan DonatoKevin Fiala
Marcus FolignoJoel Eriksson EkLuke Kunin
Jordan GreenwayMikko KoivuRyan Hartman

Ryan SuterJared Spurgeon
Jonas BrodinMatt Dumba
Greg PaterynCarson Soucy

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire will have the call from Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. Pre-game coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET, hosted by Liam McHugh with analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.