It was just a pickup hockey game between family and friends but the significance was not lost on former Humboldt Broncos teammates Ryan Straschnitzki and Jacob Wassermann.
The two young men tested out sledge hockey sleds at an arena in Denver in anticipation of a short exhibition game during an extended first period of a National Collegiate Athletic Association game between the University of Denver Pioneers and the Providence Friars on Friday night.
It soon turned into a game of shinny marking the first time both Straschnitzki and Wassermann were on the ice together since the junior hockey players were seriously injured in a fatal bus crash near Tisdale, Sask., last spring.
“Some of those guys out there are really … good and being out with Straz was amazing,” said 18-year-old Wassermann, who was set up by Straschnitzki for a goal. “I haven’t been out on the ice with him for some time so that was a really good feeling.”
Wassermann was playing as a forward, instead of his former position as a goaltender, so he could get used to using the sled.
“I’ve been a goalie my whole life, so I’m not really a scorer or anything. All that playing out there is pretty much new to me, being a goalie when I was very young, but it’s fun though.”
Straschnitzki, 19, has had a lot more time playing sledge hockey and was impressed with Wassermann’s goal.
“I set him up for a nice one. I think it was pretty cool. We got to see each other on the ice and it was fun. This was just a little warm-up for tonight,” he said.
The two players were presented with autographed Hanson Brothers jerseys from the original movie “Slapshot.” There was a lot of laughter and on-ice banter.
“That was fantastic to see them. That was the first time they’ve been on the ice together since April 5 and the smiles those two had and the chit-chats,” said Ryan Straschnitzki’s father, Tom Straschnitzki.
“I think they were trying to hit each other too.”
The junior hockey careers for the two players ended April 6 when the Humboldt Broncos team bus and a semi-trailer collided. Sixteen people were killed and 13 injured. Straschnitzki was paralyzed from the chest down and Wassermann from below the navel.
Wassermann’s father, Kirby Wassermann, had mixed feelings as he watched the two former teammates play.
“It’s really nice to see them out there again together. It’s been since April and I know Jacob’s been really excited for the trip,” he said.
“But at the same time it brings a lot of things back and … it’s hard too.”
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press