Healing slow to come for some after Humboldt crash

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The 13 players who survived the Humboldt Broncos bus crash one year ago in Canada are dealing with injuries ranging from paralysis and back pain to brain damage and mental health issues. A synopsis from The Canadian Press:

GRAYSEN CAMERON

The 19-year-old forward can’t play hockey again after suffering back injuries, a concussion and an eye injury. He had surgery in November to remove metal rods and screws in an attempt to improve his mobility. He has become an assistant coach for the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs, a team in the Alberta Midget Hockey League. Cameron had played with the team from 2015 to 2017 before joining the Broncos.

BRAYDEN CAMRUD

The 20-year-old forward overcame a severe concussion, loss of feeling in his left arm and neck problems. He also had some cuts on his hands. He has returned to play with the Broncos this season. Camrud continues to attend physiotherapy as a result of his injuries.

”Eventually I overcame everything and I’m here now,” he said in September. ”I’d say I’m close to 100% now and good to go.”

KALEB DAHLGREN

The 21-year-old forward suffered a fractured skull, a puncture wound in his head, a brain injury and six broken vertebrae in his back and neck. He also had blood clots in one arm and behind an eardrum. He is still in rehabilitation and is seeing a neurologist to determine if he will be able to play competitive hockey. He attends York University in Toronto full time and has committed to play for the university’s Lions hockey team.

”We are unsure if he will ever be able to play hockey again. His entire life revolved around hockey,” his family said in a victim impact statement during a court sentencing hearing in January for the truck driver who caused the crash. ”This accident has certainly turned his life upside down, not to mention that the brain injury significantly slowed his reading ability … We are unsure what the future holds but are thankful Kaleb survived the accident.”

BRYCE FISKE

The 21-year-old defenseman suffered a neck fracture, skull fracture, left shoulder fracture and pelvis fracture. His spleen was lacerated and his left lung was punctured. His jaw was fractured in four places. He’s missing two teeth and his tongue was severely injured. Fiske is studying commerce and playing hockey for the Ridgebacks at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

”Currently, Bryce is able to move freely on his own,” said a statement of facts entered at the sentencing hearing. ”He has a significant amount of jaw pain and is still in treatment for his injuries. The majority of his treatment is for his jaw; he will require at least one more surgery for his jaw to be reconstructed.”

MORGAN GOBEIL

The 19-year-old defenseman has a traumatic brain injury. He sustained multiple skull fractures, three facial fractures, broken ribs and lacerations to his liver and spleen. His family said in a statement in March that he spent 333 days in hospital. He has not yet regained his ability to walk or talk, but the family remains hopeful he will someday experience those milestones.

”He has endured many medical procedures and hours upon hours of physical, occupational, and speech therapy,” said his parents. ”During his time at the hospital, Morgan has celebrated his high school graduation, his brother’s wedding, his 19th birthday, several holidays and he has witnessed the change of all four seasons.”

MATTHIEU GOMERCIC

The 21-year-old forward had a separated shoulder, a concussion and cuts to his hand and chin. His spleen was enlarged, his teeth shifted and his jaw was slightly displaced. He still gets headaches and has problems with one shoulder. Gomercic has joined the Ridgebacks at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and is studying kinesiology. He continues to deal with emotional issues on a daily basis.

”My son remembers moments before the accident and then remembers waking up outside the bus in the middle of this disaster,” his mother, Joanne Girard-Gomercic, wrote in her victim impact statement. ”Although he was in a lot of pain, he got up and looked around to see where he was. He was convinced it was a nightmare because he could not believe that what he was seeing was real. What he saw and heard that night will affect him for the rest of his life, in ways that are hard to predict.”

XAVIER LaBELLE

The 19-year-old defenseman suffered a fractured skull, facial fractures and deep lacerations, as well as a brain injury that led to amnesia for two weeks. The severe injuries made him unrecognizable after the crash, which resulted in a misidentification that led to further chaos and heartbreak. He continues to undergo surgeries and faces daily challenges.

”As a young man, Xavier has shown unbelievable courage over the last nine months as he comes to terms with his injuries and the terrible loss of so many teammates, friends and mentors,” said his mother, Tanya LaBelle, in her victim impact statement. ”Xavier’s injuries have affected him physically, mentally and emotionally. His goal and dream to play a higher level of hockey through a hockey scholarship was suddenly and brutally taken away from him in the most horrific circumstances.”

LAYNE MATECHUK

The 19-year-old defenseman suffered a severe brain injury. He had extensive facial fractures and a sternum fracture. Both of his lungs collapsed. He was in a coma for a month and had to learn to walk and talk again, but has left the hospital. He is able to walk with a significant limp. He also has difficulty using his one arm due to the brain injury.

”Layne has a traumatic brain injury which has left him to be such a different son than we had before the accident,” his father, Kevin Matechuk, said in his victim impact statement. ”He is angry and confused and cannot understand why this has happened and how his life has changed so much. These injuries have taken away everything. His dream to play hockey has been taken away.”

DEREK PATTER

The 20-year-old forward suffered bleeding outside his brain, as well as right shin and fibula fractures, a nasal bone fracture and significant cuts and bruises. He continues to struggle with his leg and a surgeon has recently told him he has more healing to do.

”He has recovered enough to return to playing with the Broncos organization this year,” his parents, Roy and Laurel Patter, said in their victim impact statement. ”Being one of the survivors brings immense stress for such young men: From grieving the loss of the 16 people that they were very, very close with all at once … to dealing with the recovery of their own injuries and the changes in their physical abilities … to watching each other struggle with recovery both mentally and physically while trying to stay strong for each other.”

NICK SHUMLANSKI

The 21-year-old forward sustained a fractured bone behind his ear and a lumbar avulsion fracture, but walked away from the crash. He has been told his ear may never heal but he doesn’t expect that will have a significant effect. His back seems to have healed, but he continues to deal with emotional issues. Shumlanski is playing hockey for the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers in Charlottetown.

”Nick began counselling shortly after his release from the hospital,” said his sister, Sydney Shumlanski, in her victim impact statement. ”It has been almost one year since the accident, and he is still unable to get onto a charter bus with his teammates in P.E.I. and go to the away games. He either drives himself to the games or joins someone from the coaching staff.”

TYLER SMITH

The 20-year-old forward had two broken ribs, a broken shoulder blade, a broken collarbone and a punctured lung. He had part of his small intestine removed due to the injuries. He also had a stroke and is expected to require annual MRIs. Smith returned to play with the Broncos in the fall, but decided to leave the team to continue his recovery at home. He said his physical injuries are nothing compared to the mental health issues some of his teammates face.

”There are a lot of guys that have to live with the pictures in their minds,” said Smith. ”That’s something I would never wish for anybody.”

RYAN STRASCHNITZKI

The 19-year-old defenseman suffered a concussion, brain bleeding, an injured right shoulder blade and a collapsed right lung. He was paralyzed from the chest down and the injury is expected to be permanent. Straschnitzki played in an exhibition sledge hockey charity game in Calgary in September and is hoping to eventually represent Canada at the Winter Olympics.

”I am beyond heartbroken that my big, beautiful boy will never get to realize his dreams in stand-up hockey,” said his mother, Michelle Straschnitzki, in her victim impact statement.

”Ryan has near-perfect recall of the crash and the ensuing carnage,” she said. ”I cry daily over all that was lost that night.”

JACOB WASSERMANN

The 19-year-old goalie suffered a brain injury, a broken shoulder blade, fractured ribs and nasal bone fractures. Both of his lungs collapsed and a spinal cord injury resulted in paralysis from the navel down. Wassermann attends physiotherapy three times a week to get stronger and learn new ways to live with paralysis. He has started to have movement in his hips, his father, Kirby Wasserman, said in November. He has also turned to sledge hockey to keep his on-ice dream alive.

PHT Morning Skate: Metro deadline preview; Should Sharks trade Thornton?

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

• Craig Berube is looking forward to taking part in his first All-Star game. (NHL.com)

• Which coach will be the next one to get the axe? (The Hockey News)

• Here’s a trade deadline preview for the Metropolitan Division. (Nova Caps Fans)

• Sportsnet takes a deeper look at the relationship between defensemen in the NHL. (Sportsnet)

• Find out how Zach Hyman‘s father bankrolled a hockey empire. (Toronto Star)

Cory Schneider might be on his last legs with the New Jersey Devils. (All About the Jersey)

• Has Ryan Dzingel been a good pick up for the Carolina Hurricanes? (Cardiac Cane)

• The Rangers will probably be sellers at the deadline, but how trade-able are all their players? (Blue Line Station)

Bo Horvat had a really good month of January. (Canucks Army)

• The San Jose Sharks may have to give Joe Thornton his Ray Bourque moment. (Fear the Fin)

• The Ducks need to make some moves if they’re going to improve, but who should they get rid of? (Anaheim Calling)

• B.C. police officer Meghan Agosta will be participating in this weekend’s All-Star Game. (Kelowna Now)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Meet Matiss Kivlenieks; Booming Blackhawks and Blue Jackets

Matiss Kivlenieks Blue Jackets Blackhawks Buzzer
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Three Stars

1. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Columbus Blue Jackets

Bjorkstrand played a big role in the Blue Jackets’ fifth consecutive win. The Rangers carried a 1-0 lead into the third period, where Bjorkstrand scored both of Columbus’ goals for a 2-1 win. The first one was unassisted, while Bjorkstrand generated the game-winner with less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation.

The Blue Jackets sit in the East’s first wild-card spot … for the time being.

Bjorkstrand now has 14 goals, putting him in range of last season’s career-high of 23. He finished Sunday at 25 points in 37 games this season.

2. Matiss Kivlenieks, also Columbus Blue Jackets

Don’t blame hockey fans if they say, “OK, now the Blue Jackets are just inventing European goalies.” At least we can latch onto the funny name and prolonged hot streak of Elvis Merzlikins.

Kivlenieks, 23, made a splash during his NHL debut on Sunday. The Latvia native stopped 31 of the 32 shots he faced against the Rangers, nabbing a win. Here are a few facts about Matiss, who might draw a few Henri Matisse references from an extremely select group of hockey fans:

  • Kivlenieks wend undrafted.
  • He didn’t exactly set the AHL on fire so far in 2019-20, going 7-7-2 with a weak .896 save percentage.
  • Kivlenieks didn’t really put up very good stats in the AHL in 2018-19 or 2017-18, either. He fared better during eight ECHL appearances in 2018-19, though, managing a .923 save percentage.
  • The “Joker” mask indicates that there’s a chance he is corny.

Numbers at lower levels guarantee little, but they’re better than nothing. Kivlenieks doesn’t really check that box, but then again, neither did Andrew Hammond. So who knows? Goalies: they’re odd.

3. Robin Lehner, Chicago Blackhawks

Much like the Blue Jackets, the Blackhawks have won five in a row. To some degree, that boils down to hot play from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (who reached 1,000 points on Sunday).

Don’t discount Lehner’s role in helping Chicago persist in the playoff bubble, though. Despite a significant drop-off in defensive play around him compared to his Islanders run, Lehner continues to look strong in net. He made 36 saves on Sunday to improve to 15-7-4 with a strong .924 save percentage. That’s really not far off from last season’s outstanding .930 mark, which helped Lehner become a Vezina finalist.

Sunday presented some solid honorable mentions. Sidney Crosby collected two assists during the Penguins’ surprising comeback against the Bruins. (Check out Crosby’s no-look pass.) Lehner’s teammate Alex Nylander collected a goal and an assist, and so on.

Highlights of the Night

Justin Williams did more than just return to the Hurricanes and NHL on Sunday. He also scored the shootout-deciding goal and led a “Storm Surge.” (Read this for more on Williams’ triumphant return.)

Patrick Kane didn’t just reach 1,000 points. He did so in style:

Factoids

  • Kane became the youngest U.S.-born player to reach 1,000 points. Consider this post to be its own factoids section on Kane’s milestone.
  • The Penguins joined the Panthers in generated three comeback wins from down three goals or more, according to NHL PR. (Pittsburgh also pulled that off in 2008-09.) The league notes that only three teams have generated more comeback wins from such deficits, all at four: the Red Wings in 1989-90, and both the 1983-84 Oilers and 1983-84 North Stars.
  • Uh oh. Connor Hellebuyck sports a troubling .897 save percentage over his last 16 games after managing a .933 mark during his first 16, according to TSN’s Statscentre. Hellebuyck grabs my current hypothetical Vezina vote in part because he’s carried such a burden for the Jets. Maybe he’s starting to wear down?

Scores

PIT 4 – BOS 3
CAR 2 – NYI 1 (SO)
CBJ 2 – NYR 1
CHI 5 – WPG 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.

Patrick Kane hits 1,000 points, and Blackhawks are red-hot

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People might really start to ask: “Can the Chicago Blackhawks actually make the playoffs?” They won’t have to ask when Patrick Kane will reach 1,000 points.

Kane managed the feat on Sunday. As you can see in the video above, Kane scored point 1,000 on a beautiful secondary assist. He set up Ryan Carpenter, who fed Brandon Saad for that milestone helper. The Blackhawks realized what happened very quickly, mobbing number 88 to celebrate his 1,000th point.

The atmosphere became extra festive as Chicago beat Winnipeg 5-2, giving the Blackhawks five wins in a row.

Kane makes history with point 1,000

The Blackhawks winger wiped a tear or three away after realizing his accomplishment. Kane indeed made some history by reaching 1,000 points in 953 career regular-season games:

  • NHL PR notes that Kane became the youngest U.S.-born player to reach 1,000 points, doing so at age 31 (and 61 days). Jeremy Roenick reached that mark at age 32 (and 13 days).
  • Kane scored his 1,000th point as the second-youngest of any Blackhawk, in general, according to Sportsnet stats. Denis Savard ranks as the only one who hit 1,000 at a younger age, doing so at 29 and 35 days.
  • NHL PR tweeted out a few other tidbits. Kane is the 10th player of U.S. nationality to reach 1,000 points, and ranks among only five who did so in fewer than 1,000 games. Again, Kane got there in game 953.

Impressive stuff. Sunday’s assist extended Kane’s current point streak to 10 games (four goals, 11 assists for 15 points). He’s on a similar hot streak to Jonathan Toews, his partner in crime.

Blackhawks heat up

Speaking of hot streaks, the Blackhawks are indeed gaining steam. This marks their fifth win in a row, and things look good when you zoom out. They’ve also won nine times in their last 12 games (9-3-0) and 11 in their last 15 (11-4-0).

This surge didn’t push Chicago into the top eight. Instead, they now have the same 54 standings points as the ninth-place Jets, although Winnipeg holds a game in hand. Both teams trail an assortment of Pacific Division teams for the two wild-card spots at 57 points, and the Dallas Stars for the third Central spot at 58.

Such gaps sometimes appear closer than they really are — have you met our frenemy, the “charity point?” — but it’s still promising.

Staying in fighting distance of a playoff spot also makes Kane reaching 1,000 feel sweeter, without the bitterness of Chicago’s recent struggles.

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.

Yes, Justin Williams led ‘Storm Surge’ in Hurricanes’ return

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Sports sometimes stick to “Hollywood” scripting, but hockey can be stubborn. In this case, Justin Williams delivered during his return to the Carolina Hurricanes and NHL in general.

Williams closed out what was a pretty exciting, and occasional strange, shootout in Carolina’s favor. It went eight rounds, but Williams scored the shootout-deciding goal as the Hurricanes beat the Islanders 2-1.

Naturally, that wasn’t enough for this “bunch of jerks.” Williams also fittingly took center stage during the “Storm Surge,” giving a salute. You can watch those great moments in the video above this post.

More on a storybook return for Justin Williams

James Reimer made fun of our thirst for a narrative after the game.

“It was all a conspiracy from the beginning. That was the plan,” Reimer joked, via the Hurricanes’ website. “We fooled everyone.”

Really, there’s only one question about this Williams return: what took Rod Brind’Amour so long to send him out in the shootout? Just number eight? Nice sense of the moment, Rod.

(Just kidding — mostly.)

Williams made an impact on the game proper, firing three shots on goal, delivering a hit, and blocking a shot during 13:06 time on ice. Despite being a grizzled veteran at age 38, Williams faced some jitters.

“I was nervous the whole game, to be honest,” Williams said. “It was a playoff game out there. That’s what it felt like that. Teams weren’t giving an inch. There were chances either way, and it could have gone either way,” he said. “I’ve played over 1,200 of these, so I was like, ‘OK, Justin. Get real here. You can do this.’ It was fun. We got what we wanted: two points.”

Well, Brind’Amour believes Williams “fit right in.”

Speaking of people getting right back into the groove, the Hurricanes provided a fun variation on his nickname: on Sunday, Williams became “Mr. Round 8.”

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.