Roach counts his blessings after surviving puck to the throat scare
Hitmen defenceman talks for the first time about scary incident last Friday that could have been much worse
Alex Roach was thrilled to report to the Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday with two nuggets of good news.
First, that the doctors gave the Calgary Hitmen defenceman the OK to ride the stationary bike.
And, second, that he was able to eat solid foods again.
Both were positive signs, considering that just last Friday against the Prince George Cougars, Roach was on his knees and struggling to breathe after a frightening incident that saw him take an errant puck to the throat.
“I don’t remember too much until I got to the ambulance,” recalled the 19-year-old softly who has been trying to rest his voice and body since the injury last week. “It was pretty scary. (The puck) went off my stick and hit me in the Adam’s apple. After that, I don’t really remember too much.
“I fell and I was just gasping for air. All I remember was it was really hard to breathe and I was kind of panicking.”
He wasn’t the only one.
Immediately after Roach had been assisted off the ice — by both Hitmen trainers, the team doctor, and Prince George’s trainer — his teammates fired up their cellphones.
“I didn’t have my phone that night, but I had a lot of texts from pretty much all the guys,” he said. “They were just asking me how I was doing. It’s good to know they were wondering about me.”
Since the injury, talking has been a problem. Swallowing has also been an issue (explaining his Booster Juice-and-soup diet). And no one likes watching practice when they should be skating.
But, thankfully, Roach only escaped with a bit of bruising and swelling and did not suffer any long-term damage from the injury.
“I know I’m pretty lucky,” he said. “It could have been a lot worse. I could still be in the hospital or could have died. I’m lucky. That’s the way I’m looking at it.
“It’s a little bit difficult, seeing everyone on the ice. But I know I just have to take my time and try not to rush it too much.”
In the short-term, however, Roach’s presence will be missed on the blueline.
Up until his injury, the big six-foot-four 228-pounder had been the only Hitmen player to have dressed in all of the team’s games this season. His blistering shot has become one of the most feared in the Western Hockey League.
Meanwhile, he’s blossomed into one of Calgary’s top defenceman production-wise with 11 goals and 26 assists in 46 games and leading the team with a plus-34 rating.
And, to the coaching staff who are in the business of moulding young hockey players into professionals, all of the above has been the product of a consistent on and off-ice effort.
“It’s a topic that’s come up a lot,” said head coach Mike Williamson. “He’s been so steady for us, that’s the biggest thing. I think he’s matured. His preparation has been night and day.”
It’s also no coincidence that Roach, a signed prospect of the Los Angeles Kings, is in his 19-year-old year and the professional ranks could be waiting for him in the near future.
In other words, it’s one thing to dream about playing at the next level — it’s another thing to actually do the work to get there and stay there.
“We always talk about learning to play like a pro and that’s one thing we try to tell our guys,” Williamson said. “How important it is to practice hard every day and play hard every shift; there’s a big difference, usually, between the junior players and the pro players — and that’s something they learn.
“Alex has come a long way . . . this year, it seems like he realizes he has an opportunity. If he keeps improving and really pushing, there’s a very very realistic opportunity he can play in the NHL one day. So, I think that’s really driving him.”
At the moment, however, the team is understandably being cautious with Roach and will sit him out for tonight’s road game against Lethbridge (7 p.m., SN 960).
Willamson said he could hit the ice today and, possibly, practice on Saturday — with the slight possibility of him playing Sunday against the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings (4 p.m., SN 960).
Another piece of good news is that Calgary added depth at the WHL trade deadline with 19-year-old defenceman Jesse Zgraggen.
Meanwhile, their 16-year-old rookies — Colby Harmsworth and Josh Thrower — have been steadily improving on the blueline.
“We’ve got some options,” Williamson said. “We don’t have to rush guys back into the lineup if they’re nursing injuries or anything. We’ll see how the pairings work out, but we have the luxury of options.”
ICE CHIPS . . .
NHL legend Scott Niedermayer, a former Kamloops Blazer, is the recipient of the WHL alumni achievement award and will be presented the award Friday in Kamloops as part of the Blazers’ Niedermayer jersey retirement pre-game ceremony . . . Following Sunday’s home clash, Calgary (31-12-1-3) won’t play at the Scotiabank Saddledome until Feb. 16 against Victoria. After Sunday, they’ll go on a four-game roadie through Medicine Hat, Swift Current, Saskatoon, and Prince Albert before returning briefly before a giant five-game trip through the U.S. Division.
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