AIRDRIE, Alta. — Injured Humboldt Broncos hockey player Ryan Straschnitzki is keeping his dark side in check as he and his family celebrate their first Christmas since a bus crash last spring that left him partially paralyzed.
It will also be their first away from their home in Airdrie, Alta.
Straschnitzki, 19, was one of 13 survivors in the crash between the Broncos team bus and a semi-trailer in rural Saskatchewan. Sixteen people were killed.
The family will be having Christmas at their home away from home — a hotel they’ve been living in for the last six months while their house is renovated to accommodate Straschnitzki’s wheelchair.
“Should be a nice time,” he said after a recent physio session in Calgary. “Just hanging around the hotel with the family. Have a nice dinner. Open some gifts.”
But Straschnitzki admits to having dark days as well.
“It definitely comes out in times of frustration, but for the most part I like to keep it in me and just be that happy guy that everyone looks up to.”
The positive veneer cracked recently when a van he was riding in was rear-ended by a truck and Straschnitzki was flung to the floor. It brought back traumatic memories.
“It just happened out of nowhere like back in April,” he said. “I’m healthy now and nothing was badly damaged, so I’m just moving forward and keeping that positive attitude.”
His parents recall receiving a frantic call from their son after the accident.
“I think it was harder on us that night because he brought us right into that moment. He drew us in and we relived the way he lived it,” said his mother Michelle Straschnitzki.
“It threw us for a loop, but he’s still being resilient. I know he’s sort of a hero to a lot of people and he’s definitely showed himself to have true grit.”
She said it was a shock because her son had remained stoic since his accident.
“I think he does that for us … He doesn’t talk to us too much about it, but I know he lives in his own head quite a bit.”
For his father, Tom Straschnitzki, 2018 can’t end soon enough.
“We can erase that year from most of our minds and then move forward to 2019 and 2020 and go from there.”
Ryan Straschnitzki said he won’t be holding on to many memories of a tough year.
“I’ll just focus on just the memories of the boys, and all the hockey memories I had growing up, and seeing the guys after the accident which was nice. Basically those are the only good memories.”
He intends to continue his rehab in the coming year and pursue his dream to eventually play sledge hockey at the national level.
“Growing up with hockey I wasn’t the most skilled out there. I wasn’t always the go-to guy, but I made sure I was one of the hardest working on and off the ice.”
Christmas dinner is being provided by a local butcher and family members will be gathering at the hotel to help celebrate.
“It’ll be a very odd Christmas. We’re trying to figure out how to make it as normal as possible but we’re all still pretty scattered,” said Michelle Straschnitzki.
“It still doesn’t feel like Christmas and we’re trying to get into the spirit of things. We’re still not sure how we’re going to do Christmas morning, but we’ll figure it out.”
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Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press