Injured Humboldt Bronco Ryan Straschnitzki’s return to the ice stirs ‘mixed emotions’

Humboldt Bronco Ryan Straschnitzki tried out sledge hockey for the first time Friday, joined by his father Tom, girlfriend Erika, Team Canada’s Chris Cederstrand and Philadelphia Flyer Corban Knight.

It was his return to the ice in the wake of the tragic bus crash April 6 that killed 16 of his teammates and colleagues and injured 13.

On Sunday afternoon on the CBC  News Network, Straschnitzki tried to put into words the feeling of being back at the rink.

“It was good,” he said, in an interview with CBC News World host Hannah Thibedeau.

“Almost like a sigh of relief.”

“You never know if you’ll be on the ice again after a situation like this,” he said. “And I got out there — and it was just awesome.

“I just wish my teammates had been there with me,” he added. “But every day I just work hard and I’ll do this for them.”

Ryan Straschnitzki, right, tries out sledge hockey for the first time at an arena in Okotoks, Alberta. (Tom Straschnitzki)

First time sledge hockey player

And as familiar as the hockey rink felt, Straschnitzki also had the unfamiliar experience of trying to learn a vastly different sport for the first time, with all the discomfort and awkwardness that entails.

Straschnitzki said it helped having family and loved ones on ice with him — not to mention a Paralympic sledge hockey player in Cederstrand to help show him the ropes.

CBC News’ Hannah Thibedeau spoke with Ryan Straschnitzki, who on Friday tried out para ice hockey, following the April bus crash that left him paraplegic. 4:48

“I knew a few days prior and I was kind of nervous and kind of anxious — just mixed emotions,” he said.

“As soon as I got there, I had Chris there to help me out. My family was there and my girlfriend [too], so I just decided to have fun. 

“That’s the main thing — just having fun. I’m not worried about anything, there’s no stress, and just worry about having fun.”

He said Cederstrand helped a lot with the details of sledge hockey.

“He’s pretty much just giving me an introduction, you know — how to move and how to shoot the puck. It’s obviously a little different with the [sledge hockey] sticks and whatnot, but no, he was showing me some of the skills and I was really impressed [with the skill level involved with sledge hockey].

“It just shows, no matter what circumstances, people can still do whatever they want.”

The biggest challenge of sledge hockey, he said, is re-learning how to shoot from a much different vantage point on the ice.

“I definitely think [the most difficult thing] that it’s the shooting and puck skills,” he said. “I mean, those guys can do amazing things with their sleds and sticks and obviously, it’s going to take a lot of practise [to learn the art of sledge.

“But I can’t wait.”

Straschnitzki is preparing to play in a Sept. 15 fundraiser event that will feature chuckwagon drivers, Paralympic sledge hockey players, NHL players — and his dad, Tom, who joined him on the ice Friday on a sled.

“It is almost like when you’re just starting off, and just teaching you to skate,” he said.

Ryan Straschnitzki was back on the ice Friday, for the first time since the tragic bus crash that changed his life. 4:46

“And I got to share that moment together. And me and my girlfriend got to share that moment [too].

“It was awesome. It was a really good day.”

Straschnitzki said the day also brought back a lot of memories.

“Obviously, I’m there [on ice] in a different way, but I still have goals in mind and something to work towards.”