MJHL player Braden Pettinger paralyzed; hockey community rallies quickly

Braden Pettinger was playing his first game for Portage (

One can only imagine that Braden Pettinger and his support network are hoping for the best and bracing for the unimaginable, after the Junior A defenceman was paralyzed last week during his first game with the Portage Terriers.

Hockey people invariably support their own when someone suffers a life-altering injury. There should be no glossing over what is ahead for Pettinger, a 20-year-old from Elgin, Man., in the southwest part of the province. Yet it is astonishing how quickly people from many walks of life who love junior hockey have pitched in to support his care and rehabilitation. A GoFundMe support page set up by the Manitoba Junior Hockey League has already raised nearly $45,000 in just more than one day, although there is no way to put a dollar value on the cost of adjusting to living without the use of one's legs. For instance, the parents of Neil Doef, the Smith Falls Bears player who was paralyzed last fall, had to move to a new home that could better accommodate wheelchair accessibility.

Pettinger fractured his C5 vertebrae in his neck when he fell to the ice during a puck battle along the boards in a game against the Winnipeg South Blues last week. League commissioner Kim Davis told the Brandon Sun's Perry Bergson that Pettinger "has no feeling from the chest down ... no movement in his legs and no movement in his torso." His uncle, Rob Pettinger, told CBC that Braden has "some movement in his shoulders, elbows and wrist, and some sensation in his fingers."

Prior to moving up to the MJHL, where he played for the Steinbach Pistons and Waywayseecappo Wolverines, Pettinger played some of his midget AAA hockey in Brandon. Columbus Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert, who's an alumnus of the Western Hockey League's Brandon Wheat Kings, helped spread the word of Pettinger's challenge ahead.

Portage has only about 15,000 people, but the Terriers are a model franchise in the MJHL. They hosted and won the RBC Cup national championship tournament last May. Coach Blake Spiller has another strong squad this season, as they are currently ranked No. 2 in Canada.

It is trivial now, but from a hockey perspective one can only extrapolate how much excitement Pettinger, as an overage player in his last year in the MJHL, must have had upon joining a team that was seeking to shoot for a championship. It is every junior hockey player's goal to finish as a champion.

"Braden was only a part of the team for a few short days, but from what I heard from the [Waywayseecappo players] is that there was no better teammate out there," Terriers alternate captain Brett Orr said in an article posted to the team website.

"He was one of those guys that always had your back, which is why I was really looking forward to getting to know him better. It’s just unbelievable luck and circumstance."


In a not so small way, knowing that about Braden Pettinger underscores the desire to help out. Junior hockey is full of good teammates.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @naitSAYger.