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.

NHL Power Rankings: Which play-in playoff series would be the most exciting?

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With the NHL just announcing how Phase 2 will work — but not even exactly when it will start — the NHL has a long way to go before a 24-team playoff format might actually happen. That “long way to go” part gives us a lot of time to mull over different possibilities, though. So let’s mull, then.

A lot must still be determined, but if everything holds, there will be eight “play-in” series (four per conference, featuring the 5th through 12th seeds). Each series would include a best-of-five format.

So which of those current, play-in series would be the best? Which would brim with drama, even with fans relegated to watch at home? Let’s rank them. You can also see the proposed 24-team NHL playoff format at the bottom of this post.

1. Penguins vs. Canadiens

Look, it’s true that there’s a lot of evidence that the Carey Price players imagine has not been the Carey Price players actually face most nights over the past, say, three years.

But in your heart of hearts, can you truly dismiss how fun it could be to see “Carey Price vs. Sidney Crosby” in headlines? Especially when you can throw Evgeni Malkin in the mix? Then maybe Brendan Gallagher to add some humorous wrinkles on TikTok?

The actual, not just imagined, hockey would really sell it. Even with a more defensive bent at times in 2019-20, the Penguins remain one of the league’s most electric teams. Sometimes that electricity stems from the static energy of making mistakes. For all of the Canadiens’ flaws, they are the sort of smaller, speedy, skilled team that might carry upset potential during these uncertain times. Montreal boasts the possession numbers of a viable team, too.

Maybe Shea Weber can shoot a puck through a net and make us forget about the state of the world for at least a few moments?

Bonus points if this would set the stage for the Penguins facing the Flyers, who currently stand as the East’s fourth seed.

2. Oilers vs. Blackhawks

When in doubt, go with star power. You could do a lot worse than Connor McDavid vs. Patrick Kane. Heck, you could do worse than Leon Draisaitl vs. Jonathan Toews, too.

In a macro sense, there are some parallels between the way the teams are built, too. McDavid and Draisaitl often feel the burden of carrying not-so-balanced Oilers teams. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are a very top-heavy, deeply flawed team. But their top players are dangerous.

Corey Crawford‘s quietly strong finish to 2019-20 sprinkles in some extra intrigue as well.

If nothing else, this could be messy-but-fun.

3. Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets

Sometimes you stick to star power. Other times, you subsist on the potential for soap opera drama.

On one side, you have the explosive Maple Leafs, whose explosiveness can backfire. The media will seize on any of their stumbles, and this talented team nonetheless gives critics plenty to chew on.

On the other, you have John Tortorella, who basically has a quota for dramatic press conferences. The NHL basically owes us some controversial calls to leave Torts fuming. It’s basically an unwritten right for us hockey fans. Don’t let us down during this play-in series, then, NHL.

The contrast between a defensive-minded team and an explosive offense can let us olds rattle off “irresistible force vs. immovable object” references if we really feel saucy.

Speaking of saucy, it’s possible the Maple Leafs would go on to face the (gulp) Bruins.

4. Flames vs. Jets

If this happened a year earlier, it might take the top spot. Both teams have fallen quite a bit, though, making this a series where you wonder if they can reclaim past magic.

Even with tempered expectations, the Jets and Flames bring a lot to the table. Matthew Tkachuk has all of that pent-up pest energy from the pandemic pause. Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine can fill up highlight reels. Mark Giordano vs. Blake Wheeler would be fun.

From an actual hockey standpoint, this series might deserve a better spot on the list.

5. Hurricanes vs. Rangers

You have to assume that the Hurricanes will come up with some sort of viral sensation, right? They’ll stumble upon something.

Luckily, the Hurricanes can back up that sizzle with the steak of good hockey. Andrei Svechnikov and Sebastian Aho also give Carolina more star power than most might realize.

All of that aside, it will be tough to resist this becoming “The Artemi Panarin Show.” He generated justified Hart Trophy hype, and the Rangers were finishing pretty strong this season.

(I’m admittedly artificially boosting this on the hope that we’ll get one last Rangers playoff run from Henrik Lundqvist, by the way.)

6. Canucks vs. Wild

I’m not sure the hockey world has totally clued in to how great Elias Pettersson is. The play-in for the NHL’s 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs seem like a great opportunity to see the light.

And, hey, some funny Bruce Boudreau facial expressions won’t hurt, either.

7. Predators vs. Coyotes

There’s no way we can sneak P.K. Subban back onto the Predators for entertaining purposes, is there? (*Puts hand to imaginary earpiece*) It appears there is no way.

These two teams can play some high-quality hockey when they’re on. For all of Nashville’s headaches, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis were incredible this season. Maybe Pekka Rinne can get back on track, and create a memorable goalie duel with Darcy Kuemper? (Kuemper deserves more credit for his elite work from the past two seasons.)

Even with no Subban, there are players to watch. How might Taylor Hall perform with a lot to prove, and his next contract hovering? Will Phil Kessel rebound, or at least amuse us?

8. Islanders vs. Panthers

As much as people might want to replay John Tavares‘ series-clinching goal (it ruled), that clip might honestly bother both Panthers and Islanders fans at this point.

*cough* And yet I must …

 

There’s not really much of a rivalry here, yet even as the eighth-ranked NHL play-in series, it’s not that hard to find reasons to get excited.

Can the Islanders contain an explosive Panthers offense starring Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov? Maybe Sergei Bobrovsky can get his mojo back after a wildly disappointing first Florida foray? Joel Quenneville vs. Barry Trotz is kind of fun. And, really, take any excuse you can to witness the splendor of Mathew Barzal.

However you rank the NHL’s potential play-in series, the odds are strong that you’ll get some fun hockey. Will it be strange to watch it without fans? Sure, but the talent and intrigue might just make it all work.

Brushing up on the NHL’s proposed 24-team playoff format, including play-in series

As a reminder, here’s how it might look, and what we’re basing the play-in series upon.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
Bruins
Lightning
Capitals
Flyers

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Penguins
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Canadiens

(6) Hurricanes
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Rangers

(7) Islanders
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Panthers

(8) Maple Leafs
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Blue Jackets

WESTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
Blues
Avalanche
Golden Knights
Stars

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Oilers
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Blackhawks

(6) Predators
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Coyotes

(7) Canucks
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Wild

(8) Flames
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Jets

MORE POWER RANKINGS:

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.

NBCSN’s Hockey Happy Hour: Mark Messier’s guarantee

AP Photo / Ron Frehm
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This week’s Hockey Happy Hour on NBCSN will feature four notable milestone and record performances.

Despite trailing the series 3-2, Rangers captain Mark Messier publicly guaranteed that New York would win Game 6 on the road. Trailing by a goal after two periods, Messier scored a natural hat trick in the third period to rally the Rangers to a 4-2 victory and force a decisive Game 7. New York would go on to win the series and claim the Stanley Cup title.

Throughout the broadcast, NBC Sports’ Eddie Olczyk will provide commentary with his 1994 Rangers teammates Messier and Mike Richter, as well as former Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko.

Monday, May 25 on NBCSN
• Rangers vs. Devils (1994 Eastern Conference Final, Game 6) – 4 p.m. ET
NHL Hat Trick Trivia Hosted by P.K. Subban (Episode 7) – 5 p.m. ET
Men in Blazers On Ice – 5:30 p.m. ET

Tuesday, May 26 on NBCSN
NHL’s Who Wore It Best? (Episode 2) – 5 p.m. ET
• Kings vs. Coyotes (2012 Western Conference Final, Game 5) – 5:30 p.m. ET

Wednesday, May 27 on NBCSN
#HockeyAtHome: Meet & Greet – 4 p.m. ET
Men in Blazers On Ice – 4:30 p.m. ET
• Flames vs. Avalanche (2019 Western Conference Round 1, Game 3) – 5 p.m. ET

Thursday, May 28 on NBCSN
• Blackhawks vs. Ducks (2015 Western Conference Final, Game 5) – 5 p.m. ET

NHL HAT TRICK TRIVIA HOSTED BY P.K. SUBBAN – MON. 5 P.M. ET
Hockey Hall of Famer Bernie Parent will join the seventh episode of NHL Hat Trick Trivia Hosted by P.K. Subban. Hosted by the New Jersey Devils defenseman, the show features fans answering a trio of hockey trivia questions from their homes, along with appearances from NHL players and celebrities, for the chance to win NHL prizes. Additional guests on the episode include Carolina Hurricanes forward Jordan Martinook, singer and songwriter Robin Thicke and NHL referee Wes McCauley.

MEN IN BLAZERS ON ICE – MON., 5:30 P.M. ET
Roger Bennett, co-host of “Men in Blazers,” hosts an interview series featuring stars from around the NHL. St. Louis Blues forward Ryan O’Reilly, Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman and Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshie headline this episode.

NHL’S WHO WORE IT BEST? – TUES., 5 P.M. ET
NHL’s Who Wore It Best? will feature hockey writers, broadcasters and insiders debating the best players to wear each jersey number in NHL history. The five-week series will air on NBCSN every Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET. The second episode features NBC Sports’ Keith Jones who takes part in debating the following jersey numbers: 55, 40, 34, 32 and 31.

#HOCKEYATHOME: MEET & GREET – WEDS., 4 P.M. ET
NBC Sports’ Kathryn Tappen co-hosts a 30-minute program that features Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel and Matt Duchene of the Nashville Predators meeting fans and answering their questions virtually during the league’s hiatus.

MEN IN BLAZERS ON ICE – WEDS., 4:30 P.M. ET
Roger Bennett, co-host of “Men in Blazers,” hosts an interview series featuring stars from around the NHL. Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews headline this episode.

Programming will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Happy Hour can be found here.

NHL targets early June for Phase 2 of return to play plans

NHL return to play Phase 2
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The NHL announced a plan to enter Phase 2 of its return to play protocols, with hopes of taking the step by early June. If you enjoy staggeringly detailed documents, then this is your tonic.

To clarify, Phase 1 involved players and others entering self-quarantine. Phase 2 involves small groups of players (the league specifies six players, with a limited number of staff) returning to team facilities for noncontact skating sessions.

The league didn’t detail exactly when Phase 2 will begin (again, the goal is “early June”). Early June indicates that the NHL could theoretically begin Phase 2 as early as next week, though.

It’s not clear how long Phase 2 might last for the NHL, either. As detailed as the league’s plan is, there’s still an air of “to be determined.” The NHL didn’t publicly announce dates for Phase 3 (training camp) or Phase 4 (a return to play) in the memo.

Some more details on how the NHL plans to handle Phase 2

Depending upon how a player arrives at team facilities, it might be necessary to go into 14-day quarantine before entering team facilities. The NHL’s testing guidelines get a bit granular, so Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston shares some details that simplify and clarify certain aspects:

The memo also shares how players from other teams can access facilities if they live nearby.

The NHL emphasizes more than once in the Phase 2 memo that safety and fairness are top priorities. The league also includes this explanation around testing:

As an overriding principle, testing of asymptomatic Players and Club personnel must be done in the context of excess testing capacity, so as to not deprive health care workers, vulnerable populations and symptomatic
individuals from necessary diagnostic tests (“Publicly Necessary Testing”).

Again, there are still plenty of other details to iron out before taking the next steps. Consider some of the major issues still dangling:

  • To reiterate, the NHL still must determine the actual start time for Phase 2. We don’t yet know how long it will last.
  • Phase 3 (training camp) and Phase 4 (actual return to play) must also be determined.
  • When will the 2020 NHL Draft happen? How will the draft lottery be determined?
  • The NHL and NHLPA agreed upon a basic layout for a 24-team playoff format. There are still plenty of specifics to iron out, though.

So, we’ll see how a lot of this goes. Stay tuned at PHT as more develops.

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.

NY governor says pro teams can resume training

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says teams in his state can return to their facilities for training after a pause of more than two months.

”Starting today, all the New York professional sports leagues will be able to begin training camps,” the Democratic governor said during a news conference Sunday.

The New York City area was one of the hardest-hit parts of the U.S. by the coronavirus pandemic, but COVID-19 deaths and new infections in the state have been trending downward.

Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL are discussing the resumption of their seasons with their players’ unions.

”I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena – do it! Do it!” Cuomo said. ”Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”