The Devil didn’t play in the first game of her tournament tonight because of an injury. It seems she (or someone) dropped a hunk of wood (a plank or board or sheet of plywood for all I know) on her foot at school. The ankle was black, blue, at least twice its normal size and was in no way being coaxed into a skate. Added to this accidental injury was the loss of a defenceman to a sprained ankle from a misstep in a Terry Fox Run and the team headed into their game shorthanded. Still one other player would be trying to make a go of it with an injured and tightly wrapped elbow. She would succumb to the pain, taking a seat beside the unarmoured Devil on the bench before the end of the second period.
My good wife, the team trainer, has been kept on her toes early this season and has already run out of ice packs. It seems the older the kids get, the more prone they are to sustaining these bumps, bruises, scrapes, scratches, sprains, fractures and contusions. Over on the Boy’s team, they entered game two of the regular season down three players due to a concussion and two bum legs.
I suppose most of us have suffered a sports-related injury at one point or another. I recall a game when I was about 14, playing forward and on the attack in our opponent’s zone. I remember having the puck, dropping a pass back to our defenceman on the point and moving forward towards the net. I heard the slap of the defenceman’s stick on the puck. I then felt the puck seemingly wedge itself shockingly between my shoulder blades. I surely must have resembled Jesus on the cross as I flung myself forward spread eagled and hollering like I’d been shot. I believe I laid on the cold hard ice for a good several minutes while our coach (because we didn’t have trainers back then) checked to make sure the puck hadn’t lodged itself betwixt my lungs. I’ve never forgiven Brian Bukoski for that errant shot. He was most likely and quite rightly cursing me for getting in the way.
A similar, but slightly scarier, incident occurred during one of the Boy’s games several years ago; only this time it was the Boy rushing towards a defenceman from the opposing team as he was setting up to take a shot on net. The defenceman fired the shot which hit the Boy’s oncoming stick and then ricochet up towards the Boy’s neck; or so it seemed. The Boy dropped to the ice like a stone. Mom jumped up from her seat in the stands in terror; fearing the worst. Hopefully the prescribed neck guard (mandatory equipment and rightly so) had done its job. The trainer dashed immediately to the Boy’s side as his view echoed ours. He knelt down next to the Boy lowering his face close to the ice with all the precaution he could. After several agonizing minutes the trainer ushered the Boy to his knees, then to his feet and led him slowly to the bench. We would learn in short order that the puck hadn’t actually struck the Boy’s throat, but had smacked flat on his chest under his arm. In fact, when he removed his pads and undershirt he revealed a welt shaped exactly like a puck. We all chuckled nervously in light of having dodged what appeared to be something much more severe.
I believe it was in the same year that the same trainer was summoned to the ice by a 9 or 10 year old player who was doubled over and apparently having difficulty breathing. As the trainer related the story, he approached the player, who had a history of asthma, with a puffer in hand. The crowd watched, heavy with anticipation. But the player, who was indeed gasping for air, quickly reported that the issue was not asthma related. Rather he told the trainer, “I got hit in the balls.” Those were all the words he was able to muster. The trainer had to fight back a giggle, but wasn’t sure exactly how to address the injury, other than to suggest that the player take deep breaths, which was the thing he was having the most trouble doing.
The last several years we’ve been witness to all manner of minor and major mishaps. Two years ago, in the final tournament of the year, we saw one boy suffer a spiral fracture of his leg, which put him in an ambulance bound for a nearby hospital. He was in a cast for nearly six months and he missed a full year of hockey. That same cursed tournament claimed another player with a broken wrist. He would likewise sport a cast for a few months and miss tryouts for the following season’s teams. The same boy would unwittingly break the same wrist in a season-ending tournament the following year. The Boy himself had a near miss in the tourney as a mostly beaten opponent dangerously stuck out his leg as the Boy skated by him. The two players knees struck, which can often be disastrous. The Boy had to be carried gingerly from the ice, while the offender was banished to his dressing room. The knee was luckily only bruised, but it could have been much worse.
Hockey is a fast game played on an extremely slippery surface, which lends itself to crashes, falls and collisions. Even the girls, who play non-contact are at risk as they hurtle themselves headlong up and down the ice. The boys on the other hand play full contact with the added boost of adrenaline and testosterone for good measure. Many young players are fearless; their brains not yet fully developed with the necessary on and off switches to help them avoid reckless situations. If there is any upside, it is the fact that these kids can push their young bodies further and heal much faster from the minor injuries; injuries that would put us old guys on the shelf for weeks.
Protective equipment today has vastly improved over what we had when we were kids. For instance, a recent heightened awareness of concussions in particular has seen more attention paid to the construction and role of the helmet. Mouthguards are also required, not to protect the teeth, but to quell the brain jarring impact of teeth on teeth. While more protection is good and necessary, I wonder if it might add to the sense of invincibility, enabling some young athletes to play with more reckless abandon.
The Devil’s team lost game one of their tournament 4-0 last night. The Boy’s team tied regular season game two against a team they should have beaten. Both surely could have used all those players they were missing. Of course, dealing with injuries and pulling together as a team to make up for those who are missing is yet another part of the game and learning experience.
Thankfully, I’ve less girls’ hockey injury stories to tell. I hope I haven’t jinxed anything simply by stating that here. My wife, the trainer, is stocking up on ice packs and bandages just in case.