“It was pretty awful”
Former Niagara Falls Canucks captain Ben Evans is recovering from two broken vertebrae in his neck he sustained while playing in the Ontario Junior Hockey League earlier this year. Photo by: BILL POTRECZ.
Ben Evans will never forget the night of Feb. 2, 2020.
The 21-year-old Thorold native had already scored a goal for the Wellington Dukes versus the Lindsay Muskies when he was hit from the side by Lindsay defenceman Artel Guryev and tumbled into the boards.
“I was racing for a 50/50 puck and with one D-man and the other D-man came across and caught me on my back left shoulder and I went head first into the boards on my right,” Evans recalled.
“I still remember the hit like it was yesterday. I was conscious the whole time. I remember everything.”
Evans was shaken up on the play, but wasn’t overly concerned at first.
“I felt something in the middle of my shoulder blades, not necessarily where it was in my neck. I definitely thought something was wrong, but I thought it was minor at the time. I thought it was just a rib or something.”
Evans instructed the team trainer to help him off the ice and he made his way to the trainer’s room. He quickly realized the injury was more serious than he originally realized.
“I kept trying to sit up on the trainer’s bed and I really couldn’t sit straight so I knew something was wrong then,” he said.
Evans was taken to hospital by ambulance where he was diagnosed with two broken vertebrae (C7, T1) in his neck.
After about 10 days in a neck brace, Evans was examined by doctors and told he would need surgery to fuse the broken vertebrae together, which was performed in Hamilton.
For the next three months, Evans was in a neck brace and extremely limited in his activities.
“It was definitely a change to be stuck in bed all day,” he said. “It was pretty awful.”
Evans kept his spirts up watching the Dukes on TV but that quickly ended when the Ontario Junior Hockey League was shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Slowly but surely, Evans began feel better and even returned to work.
“I’m feeling a lot better now,” he said. “I’m pretty well back to normal life now with some weight restrictions on what I can lift.”
Evans, who began his junior career with the Fort Erie Meteors and also captained the Niagara Falls Canucks to a Golden Horseshoe championship two years ago, admits things could have been much worse.
“It was definitely scary. You think, ‘what if’ sometimes. I’ve heard stories of other people who have broken vertebrae. I have full feeling in all my limbs. I’m lucky.”
Evans is scheduled to meet with doctors soon and is looking forward to being cleared for light workouts.
He plans to attend university this fall and is waiting to see if a return to the ice is possible.
“I’m just trying to figure out what my next steps are,” he said. “That decision will have to be made at a later date.”
He would love to be able to play again, but realizes the odds may be stacked against him.
“If there is any risk involved, probably not,” he said. “It would have to be a low risk. I have four screws in my neck for the rest of my life so I really don’t know.”
Looking back, Evans admits the experience has changed his perspective on life.
“For sure. You never know what tomorrow brings. You take the little things for granted. It’s definitely eye-opening.”
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