Hockey is a fast game - stop me if you’ve heard this one before - but it is. Injury strikes when you don’t expect it, injury strikes when you do expect it.
One time I was coaching a player who was routinely skating through the neutral zone when he turned slightly and broke both his tibia and fibula. There was no real reason for it, but injury struck all the same.
This was a bad injury, but it wasn’t a frightening one.
A couple weeks ago, the North West Giants and I were playing a game in Kelowna as part of a preseason tournament. As the puck moved up the ice, I noticed Liam Kindree screaming at the referee to blow his whistle. I’ve only coached Liam for a couple months, but the fire in his eyes told me something was seriously wrong.
Fast forward a half hour and Clint Colebourn remains face down on the ice with a paramedic's hands on both sides of his head stabilizing his spine.
He was awake, but his legs weren’t moving.
At this point I had tracked down Clint’s dad, John, with the help of Chris Gray and the front desk of the North Shore Winter Club. Paramedics had arrived quickly and were working on our fallen teammate. However, Clint was now a collective teammate - both teams, removed from the ice, watched intently behind the glass, side by side, as did several concerned onlookers.
Our parent group immediately stepped up and began making preparations to help Clint in the hospital, to be by his side and to support the medical staff in any way possible.
By the way, this was after four of our hockey dads repaired a broken pane of glass in the rink the previous game.
But this was no longer about hockey - it was about the health of a rambunctious 17 year-old kid. It wasn’t about powerplay time or goals or wins or even playing hockey before.
It was about walking.
I say all that because this was what went through my head hearing Clint holler in pain as he was manoeuvred by 6 paramedics onto a stretcher on the ice beside the net. My partner in crime Clint Thornton and I stood on the ice, helpless, shock on our faces. Clint’s captain, Carter Stephenson, kneeled beside us, a representative of his teammates remaining by Clint’s side.
I didn’t know what was going to happen. It’s times like these your mind braces you for the worst while preparing you for something you never thought possible a half hour earlier.
Coach Clint called the game at that point, and that’s when I turned to him and said “if anyone is going to walk away from this, it’s Colebourn.”
And thanks to whatever god you might pray to, and even if you don’t, but hot damn, I was right.
“The feeling is returning to the left side of his body and he can move his legs,” I told the team after receiving a text from Coach Clint, who was at the hospital following player Clint's CT scan a couple hours later.
And then the laughter returned. Messages started to flow in from back home, including one from our Minor Hockey Director David Beaupre - people who don’t know Clint firsthand, but still sent well-wishes.
It’s funny, the day prior we had the players fill out self-assessments - where they see room for improvement, what their strengths are, and what the team means to them.
In some capacity, almost every player used the word family.
Well, they had just found out one of their brothers had pulled through a frightening incident, and that was all that mattered.
We returned to the rink to play our second game that day weary and drained. We played the way we need to play, even though we needed some help from goaltender Nic Hoem (ok a lot of help) and scored a victory. We repeated the process the following day, again receiving timely goaltending, this time from Donovan Buskey, only this time we lacked the mental energy to make decisions, particularly since we were now down to 4 defenseman following an injury to Ethan Cap. Thankfully this one was less serious.
All part of the routine of playing hockey. Injuries always seem to happen at the worst possible time: which is always.
I’ve never really bought into a lot of the sentiment that comes with describing your team as a ‘family’. I know, I’m a writer, I’m supposed to suck sentiment out of every situation like maple syrup from a birch tree, but for me, you can’t fake family. In fact, I think it’s disrespectful to try.
But I’ll never forget the feeling on the bench when Clint Colebourn proved me right by walking into the rink with 2 minutes left in the third period during a timeout. Our defense, hunched over on the bench, our goalie doing everything he could to preserve a two goal lead in the face of a late onslaught from our opponent, and in walks their goofy brother in a high collar to push them through the fatigue, mental and physical.
They wanted to leave the bench, I could see them gravitating to the exit, but if Clint Colebourn could walk away from the incident, then surely they could finish off the game.
And finish the game they did, and it didn’t even matter what the final score ended up being*. And so what started as a journey of teammates ended as an ordeal shared by a family.
*except it did, because we won.
Image courtesy of Per Hoem, see more here.