Two goals and a come-from-behind victory – in front of a few hundred fans – capped off Ryan Straschnitzki’s sledge hockey debut Sept. 15, at WinSport’s Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary.
The 19-year-old Airdronian played at the Cowboys ‘N Sleds charity fundraiser, an event organized to raise funds for the StrazStrong Foundation and the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS). According to the event’s Twitter account, Cowboys ‘N Sleds raised more than $30,000.
“It was incredible to see all the people out in the stands supporting Ryan, StrazStrong and STARS. Just an absolutely amazing event,” said Chris Cederstrand, a co-chair of Cowboys ‘N Sleds and a participant in the game.
Alongside Straschnitzki, the sledge hockey game featured World Pro Chuckwagon Association drivers, current and former Olympians, country music star George Canyon, members of the Team Canada sledge hockey team, Straschnitzki’s father Tom and other friends and guests.
For Straschnitzki, a former Junior A hockey player who was paralyzed from the chest down in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash April 6, returning to the ice for a game in his new sport was an exhilarating experience.
“It brought back a lot of memories from when I was five years old and laced up my skates,” he told reporters after the game. “It was one of the happiest times of my life and I was just back out there on the ice, enjoying the moment.
“I didn’t expect that much, but the support was actually amazing. I can’t thank everyone enough. The music was going and the fans were loud – it was just like playing in Humboldt again.”
Though he was a defenceman in his stand-up hockey career, Straschnitzki played forward in the sledge hockey game and scored two goals as his team came from behind to secure a 5-4 win.
Cederstrand, who played sledge hockey for Team Canada and has been mentoring Straschnitzki in the sport, set him up on both goals.
“He’s doing incredible,” Cederstrand said. “Given everything that he’s had put on his plate and how soon it is [since]the accident happened, for him to be out here participating in his first sledge hockey game is phenomenal.”
Playing opposite Straschnitzki was his father, Tom, who picked up an assist.
“That was great, seeing Ryan out there,” he said. “He was in high spirits when we were coming in here and wasn’t sure how he’d do when we were in the dressing room.
“He came out, smiled, and just had fun. He saw the rest of us [struggling], too.”
Tom will now have to wear makeup and a dress, Straschnitzki said, as per a bet the two had made before the game.
According to Cederstrand, Straschnitzki still has a long road of recovery ahead, but he said being able to focus on learning a new sport will help with the healing process.
“Your rink is your second home. Being able to get him back into that atmosphere again…. I’ll never forget the first time we had him out on the ice, and that smile he had on his face,” he said.
“It will be imprinted in my mind forever, because it was such a big moment for him.”