'It shows the power of sport': Expat hockey players pay tribute to Humboldt Bronco Ryan Straschnitzki

Though he's receiving surgery a long way from home, a hockey player who was paralyzed in last year's Humboldt Broncos bus crash received a tribute on the ice from his counterparts in Thailand.

Ryan Straschnitzki dropped the puck to kick off a game in the Siam Hockey League on Sunday, just a few weeks after receiving experimental surgery.

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"For the first few weeks he was here, he wasn't able to get out of the hospital," said Scott Murray, vice president of the league. "This week, we asked him to drop the puck to pay homage to him and his Humboldt teammates."

It goes to show the support around. The hockey world is super small and everyone's there for you. - Ryan Straschnitzki, Humboldt Broncos hockey player

The league literally rolled out the red carpet for Straschnitzki, who shook hands with players and watched the action on the ice before he dropped the puck.

"I think it's cool. I didn't expect hockey to be out here in Thailand," Straschnitzki said. "So as soon as I heard the news, I knew I wanted to check it out."

CBC
CBC

"I just want to say, thanks for everyone for having me here. It's absolutely amazing," Straschnitzki said. "I can't thank everyone enough. It goes to show the support around. The hockey world is super small and everyone's there for you."

Making progress

Straschnitzki said he has been feeling good lately, and has no pain after receiving experimental spinal surgery.

"I mean right away … as soon as the surgery was done and I was able to do physio, they started moving my legs right away and from there it's just hard work," he said.

Before travelling to Thailand, Straschnitzki heard about Dr. Richi Gill, a Calgary surgeon who had the operation last year. Only about 30 people have had the surgery worldwide.

Everything's starting to work again. - Ryan Straschnitzki, Humboldt Broncos player

Though results have been promising, experts in Canada and the U.S. say the surgery is still highly experimental.

For Straschnitzki, the surgery has allowed him to notice feeling below his chest, and control those areas through the electrical stimulator.

"Everything's starting to work again," he said.

'It could have been any of us'

Straschnitzki was one of 13 junior hockey team players injured when a truck driver blew through a stop sign and collided with the Saskatchewan team's bus, killing 16 others in April 2018.

When Murray heard the news, he said he put he put his hockey sticks outside the house.

"It was the idea that the kids might need them on their journey, in the next part of their spiritual journey," Murray said. "It just caught on, bringing people together in what was a very tragic occurrence." 

CBC
CBC

Long bus rides are familiar to any hockey player, Murray said, making what happened to the Humboldt Broncos team hit even harder.

"You always think when you're getting on a plane that there's a possibility of an accident, but in a bus ride," he said. "It could have been any of us. There wasn't any hockey player playing anywhere that wasn't touched by this story."

For Straschnitzki's dad, Tom, seeing the progress has been encouraging.

"I just tell [him], whether you're walking or not, you're going to have ups and downs. So make the day a new day," Tom said. "Let's see what happens and go through it and fight through it and work through it."

Next week, his last week in Thailand, Ryan and his medical team will put his parhockey sled on the ice of the same rink.

"I'm looking forward to it," Straschnitzki said. "I've never skated overseas before, so this will be a first."

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