Patrick Wiercioch gets behind the wheel of the monster truck ‘Crushstation’ and drives it the way a person might after a life-altering experience: Cautiously.
Kyle Turris? Not so much. The Ottawa Senators centre hammers the gas pedal on the ‘Bounty Hunter,’ the front wheels catching air in the Scotiabank Place parking lot.
Wiercioch and Turris. Together again. These B.C. boys and young Senators, best of pals since their days playing minor hockey together for the North Shore Winter Club and Jr. A Burnaby Express, have a lot to talk about these days.
Wiercioch is delighted he can talk at all, after a puck to the throat this season took him for a different kind of monster ride than he the one was on Thursday morning.
After two weeks of involuntary silence, the 21-year-old defenceman was beginning to wonder if he would speak again. More than one doctor that cared for him said he could require a year or two away from hockey, to recover.
Having none of that, Wiercioch willed his way back into the lineup of the Binghamton Senators, Ottawa’s AHL farm team, about seven weeks after the fluke injury. Today his voice rings strong enough it can almost be heard above the roar of a monster truck engine. Almost.
No wonder a smile comes to Wiercioch’s face so readily these days.
“I was fortunate God had an angel around me,” he says, “and it (the injury) wasn’t worse than it was.”
Two angels, really. The one with him on the ice that Friday night, Dec. 9 in Binghamton, and the angel known as Kresson, Patrick’s girlfriend who guided him through the ordeal.
It began, as these things often do, with an innocent play. Just three minutes into a game against the Norfolk Admirals, Wiercioch was just inside the Norfolk blueline as Admirals defenceman Radko Gudas pursued the puck along the boards. Wiercioch assumed Gudas would drive the puck along the wall to clear the zone, but instead Gudas hammered it up and away from the boards, a trajectory that inadvertently guided it to Wiercioch’s throat.
“I probably made the wrong decision lifting my chin up … I wasn’t expecting it and before I knew it I was down on the ice,” Wiercioch says. “That’s when the trainers ran in pretty quick.”
According to game reports and video, Wiercioch lay face down for about two minutes, his body straddling the blue line. Trainer Glen Kinney and B-Sens captain Mark Parrish helped Wiercioch off the ice, the 6-4, 201-pound Wiercioch unsteady but on his feet. He spent the night at nearby Lourdes Hospital but the next day was transferred to the Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse.
Wiercioch won’t disclose the medical details except to say he had a “pretty serious fracture in the back of my neck and from that a lot of internal bleeding that was cause for a lot of panic and worry.”
On the Saturday, Wiercioch’s condition was listed as stable, not that he knew.
“The injury happened Friday and I woke up Monday,” he says. “When I checked my phone it was a bit of a shock to see Monday pop up on the screen.”
Back home in B.C., Patrick’s parents were investigating flights to Syracuse, but in the end, Kresson kept them up to speed through phone calls and texts.
“I was extremely fortunate and will be forever indebted to my girlfriend for sticking by my side,” he says. “She was phenomenal through the whole thing.”
The initial concern was damage to the vocal chords, then at rest. For two weeks, Patrick did not speak, using text and the Skype chat system to communicate daily with his family, and with Turris, who checked in on his pal daily. Oddly, Turris was a Phoenix Coyotes player when Wiercioch was first injured, but was traded to the Senators a week later, on Dec. 17, for defenceman David Rundblad.
After two weeks on a diet of fluids, Wiercioch dropped 20-25 pounds, to reach a level a sportswriter would envy.
“I don’t think I’ve been that light since the eighth, ninth grade,” Wiercioch says.
The Senators hope he’s never that light again. Don’t be fooled by Thursday’s monster truck promotion for Saturday’s show here, Turris and Wiercioch are at the rink these days to build up physically for next season.
In his second AHL season, Wiercioch played just 57 games while suffering a frightening injury. Both Wiercioch and Turris are spending most of their days in the team weight room with strength trainer Chris Schwarz.
“I hope it’s behind me now,” Wiercioch says. “That’s why I’m here this summer training, I don’t feel this injury should have any impact on my ability to perform at training camp to push for a spot on the team.”
With Rundblad gone and Filip Kuba a pending free agent, Wiercioch, Ottawa’s 42nd pick in 2009, should get a good look.
“He’s got so much skill and thinks the game so well,” Turris said of his best friend. “It’s great being in same organization.”
After what Wiercioch has been through, it’s just great to be healthy and driving a monster truck.