A Canadian NCAA hockey player has regained feeling in his arms and legs after having his neck broken by a bodycheck over the weekend.
University of Denver centre Jesse Martin remains in a Minneapolis hospital with three fractures to his C2 vertabrae. Doctors were expected to perform surgery on the Edmonton native within “24 to 48 hours,” his father Terry Martin said late Monday afternoon.
“He’s progressing with movements in his legs and his arms,” said Terry Martin. “Feeling is returning back to his fingers and things. So those big ticket items are showing progress. …
“We’re hopeful, guardedly so, but definitely he’s on the right side of centre.”
The 22-year-old was fitted with a halo brace to stabilize the head and neck. His father said he was heavily medicated.
Martin was injured during a road game Saturday against the rival University of North Dakota. He was carrying the puck with his head down slightly when Fighting Sioux forward Brad Malone hit him straight on with a hard check.
The force of the hit knocked Martin unconscious. He was awoken by a trainer and taken from the ice on a stretcher.
“When he regained consciousness, he had no movement in his arms or his legs,” said Terry Martin. “Upon direction from the trainer, he couldn’t move. He tried and he tried and he couldn’t. There was definitely concern (he was paralyzed). …
“Jesse has verbalized that he thought he was done. He thought he was paralyzed.”
Malone was given a five-minute major for charging and a game misconduct. The only problem Denver coach George Gwozdecky had with the hit is that Malone made contact with Martin’s head.
Like a number of hockey leagues, the NCAA has vowed to crack down on all hits to the head.
“I certainly don’t believe that it was malicious, I don’t think it was intentional and I don’t think it was intended to be dirty,” said Gwozdecky. “It was just a hard hit. In fact, probably two or three years ago, people would have said ‘darn good hit.”’
Martin is in senior year at Denver and had one goal and four points through eight games. He will be lost for the season.
The Pioneers have a record of 4-3-1 and will dearly miss one of their alternate captains.
“He’s evolved into a role as one of our go-to guys,” said Gwozdecky. “He plays in every situation — he’s on the power play, he plays on the top penalty killing unit, he centres one of our top lines and he’s one of our top faceoff guys.
“He plays a very integral role with our team and certainly missing him out of the lineup is going to be a challenge.”
Martin was a seventh-round draft pick of the Atlanta Thrashers in 2006 and attended the NHL team’s prospect camp over the summer.
Prior to attending Denver, he spent one season with Spruce Grove in the Albert Junior Hockey League and another with Tri-City in the USHL.
“Hockey’s been where he wants to go,” said Terry Martin. “His whole life he’s wanted to be a hockey player.”
Martin’s parents were on vacation in Las Vegas when the incident occurred. They received a call from the team’s trainer and flew to Minneapolis on Sunday morning.
After speaking with doctors, his father was feeling encouraged.
“I think the prognosis, certainly from a life issue, is positive,” said Terry Martin. “Positive things are taking place.”