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.”

NHL, NHLPA agree on protocols to resume season

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The NHL and NHL Players’ Association agreed Sunday on protocols to resume the season, a major step toward the return of hockey this summer.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press there was an agreement on protocols for training camps and games and the sides are still negotiating an extension of the collective bargaining agreement, which is crucial to the process.

A person with knowledge of the situation said the return-to-play protocols would only go into effect if each side votes to approve the full package of the CBA extension and return-to-play agreement. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because CBA talks are still ongoing.

To complete a return, two-thirds of the league’s board of governors and majorities of the players’ executive committee and full membership must vote in favor.

If everything is ratified, it will end a pandemic-forced shutdown that began in mid-March. Games would resume in late July or early August with 24 teams taking part in an expanded playoffs, finishing with the Stanley Cup being awarded in October.

The agreement was first reported by TSN.

The 47 pages of protocols outline the health and safety measures the league and players agreed to after several weeks of negotiations. Any player has until 5 p.m. EDT on Tuesday to notify his team if he’s choosing to opt out of participating in training camp and games.

For those playing, each team is limited to 30 skaters and an unlimited amount of goaltenders for camp and total roster of up to 31 players for games. Each team is limited to 52 personnel in its game city, a group that must include two trainers, a doctor and compliance officer in addition players, coaches and management.

They are expected to be quarantined from the general public during play at least for the qualifying and first two traditional playoff rounds. Family members will be permitted to join when play is moved to one city for the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final.

All team and league employees plus hotel, restaurant and arena staff coming in contact with players will be tested daily in the two ”hub” cities.

One player’s positive coronavirus test result is not expected to shut down play entirely. The league has said it would isolate any player or staff member who tests positive, acknowledging an outbreak would threaten the remainder of the season.

”The players will be pretty well-protected from being exposed,” Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said during a conference call in June. ”It’s going to be a completely different way for you all and us watching hockey and being around a team because players will be really well protected throughout the process.”

The protocols include a provision for Commissioner Gary Bettman in consultation with NHLPA executive director Don Fehr to postpone, delay or cancel games in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Assuming the protocols are approved, teams are expected to open training camps July 13 before traveling to the two hub cities for games. Players have been able to skate and train off-ice in voluntary, small-group workouts since June 8 – nearly three months after hockey was halted March 12 with 189 regular-season games remaining.

Returning for the playoffs is seen as a stirring victory for the NHL, which like other top leagues faced the prospect of losing millions more without the television revenue tied to the postseason. There were deep concerns about canceling the rest of the season and word of positive tests didn’t help: 26 players since June 8, in addition to almost a dozen before that.

Boston defenseman Matt Grzelcyk called the positive test results ”eye-opening” but expected. A few players expressed concerns in recent weeks about the uncertainty surrounding a return.

”We have obviously a unique situation right now,” Montreal goaltender Carey Price said. ”The NHL and the NHLPA are trying to make the best of a very difficult situation. Moving forward I’d like to play, but we have a lot of questions that need to be answered and a lot of scenarios that need to be covered.”

If the protocols and an CBA extension cover those scenarios for enough owners and players, there will be a path forward to hand out the Stanley Cup. Only twice since 1893 has the Cup not been awarded: in 1919, when the final couldn’t be completed because of the Spanish flu pandemic, and 2005 when the season was wiped out by a lockout.

Seven hockey players suspended in Belarus match-fixing case

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ZURICH — Seven ice hockey players have been suspended during an investigation into match-fixing in the Belarus league.

The players — five from Belarus and two from Russia — told a domestic investigation they were paid to help arrange the outcome of a game in November, the International Ice Hockey Federation said on Friday.

“During the investigation, each of the players also admitted that they had agreed to exert an unlawful influence on the outcome of the game in exchange for illegal remuneration,” the governing body said in a statement.

The IIHF said its disciplinary board had taken over the case “for further review and sanctioning.”

The case involves Dynamo Molodechno’ losing to Mogilyov 6-5 in a Belarus Extraliga game.

The players have been suspended from taking part in any competition organized by the IIHF or its member federations.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL vs. viruses; Flat salary cap pain = Avs’ gain?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Lafreniere, COVID-19 hockey concerns, and how Avs may benefit from a flat salary cap

• Rank Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen among those expressing some misgivings about playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. [TSN]

• Breaking: Alexis Lafreniere is not a defenseman. In all seriousness, a look at some Maple Leafs possibilities … which might be complicated at No. 1 because of that positional point. Maybe? [Pension Plan Puppets]

• Speaking of those Maple Leafs, Buds fans are not pleased about the idea of a possible flat, $81.5M salary cap. There are teams who might take advantage of this situation, though. Here’s why the Avalanche could be one of those teams. [Mile High Hockey]

• A look back at the NHL’s “rivalries” with viruses. Does the history of the NHL’s dealing with such issues — even the Mumps — be a cause for concern amid COVID-19 outbreaks? [Arctic Ice Hockey]

• Earlier this week, PHT selected the best landing spots for Alexis Lafreniere. What about getting even more specific? Andrew Berkshire shared his picks for some of the lines that would benefit most from adding the consensus No. 1 pick to their left side. [Sportsnet]

Other hockey links

• Sean Gentille put together an oral history for the Jean Claude Van Damme masterpiece “Sudden Death.” If you haven’t heard of the candidate for “so-bad-it’s-good” designation, how about the elevator pitch: “Die Hard at a hockey game.” [The Athletic (sub required)]

• On face value, this article focuses most on Rudy Gobert and Novak Djokovic and athletes feeling invulnerable to COVID-19. But it’s a really good read for hockey fans, players, and executives as cautionary tales with a return-to-play picking up steam. [The Score]

• Joe Pelletier of Greatest Hockey Legends wonders why the bar is set so high for goalies to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Not an awful point when you consider that they play the most important position in the sport, and all. I wouldn’t mind Ron Hextall making a future cut, to name just one worthy goalie. [Greatest Hockey Legends]

• Five crossovers between hockey and Todd McFarlane. Yes, the “Spawn” guy. [PuckJunk]

• Taking a run at putting together the Sabres’ roster during the upcoming offseason. It gets elaborate, including potential trades. Yes, this scenario includes trading away Rasmus Ristolainen. Don’t they all? [Die by the Blade]

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.

Our Line Starts podcast: NHL, NHLPA nearing agreement; hub cities, Olympics, CBA

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Liam McHugh, Keith Jones, and Patrick Sharp react to the reports that the NHL and NHLPA are nearing the completion of a massive agreement that would not only cover this year’s Return to Play protocols, but also serve as an extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The guys discuss Edmonton and Toronto emerging as hub city favorites, as well as what it would mean for the NHL to return to the Olympics. Plus, a breakdown of the Qualifying Round series in both conferences.

Start-4:45 Edmonton, Toronto new hub city frontrunners
4:45-8:45 NHL, NHLPA nearing CBA extension, including Olympic participation
8:45-13:00 Other return to play details
14:00-23:00 Eastern Conference Qualifying Round preview
23:50-End Western Conference Qualifying Round preview

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports