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'Play until you can't'

At the end of a long and difficult year, Ryan Straschnitzki is on the ice and his hockey dream is intact.

Straschnitzki and his Humboldt Broncos teammates were on their way to a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game last April when tragedy struck.

A semi-trailer drove through a stop sign and into the path of their bus at an intersection. Sixteen people died and 13 others, including Ryan, had their lives changed forever.

Straschnitzki, paralyzed from the chest down, had hoped to play university hockey or, if fortune favoured him, make it to the National Hockey League. Now his entire focus is on playing for Canada on the national sledge hockey team.

The 19-year-old from Airdrie, Alta., was on the ice late Wednesday night in Okotoks, south of Calgary, for an intense one-on-one mentoring session with his coach and former national sledge team member Chris Cederstrand. A handful of more experienced players darted around him.

Ninety minutes later, practice was over and Straschnitzki, soaked in sweat, was the last person to come off the ice. "It's a lot better, eh?" he asked.

"There's still a lot of practice to do. Chris is teaching a bunch of tips and tricks to kind of manoeuvre around my disability in the sled because I don't have a core. I attempt it. He corrects me, and I just keep trying it."

Straschnitzki says he won't be attending the sentencing Friday in Melfort, Sask., for the truck driver who caused the deadly crash. He'll be returning to the Shriners Hospital for Sick Children in Philadelphia for a medical checkup.

But the sentencing and the crash anniversary are still on his mind.

"It's hard not to think about it but I try my best," he said. "I text my buddies to make sure they're doing OK. We just keep in touch and are there for each other."

Cederstrand said he's rarely seen anyone as committed to the sport as Straschnitzki and, if the hard work continues, there's no reason why he can't achieve his new dream.

"For him to have that kind of ambition so soon after everything happened ... it's something I've never encountered before and he's just unrelenting on the ice," Cederstrand said. "His hockey IQ is way above already and ... I have no question that as things progress forward, our goal is the Olympics in 2026."

Straschnitzki said he just wants to continue playing hockey.

"I want to play as long as I can play, just like any Canadian guy or girl. You want to play until you can't."



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