PHILADELPHIA — Ryan Straschnitzki hasn't given up his dream of playing hockey.
The 19-year-old Alberta teen, who was paralyzed from the chest down in a bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team, has been put through his paces for the past few weeks doing physiotherapy at the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia.
Every drop of sweat, every sore muscle is geared toward returning home to Airdrie, north of Calgary, and finding a way to get back on the ice.
Almost immediately after the April bus accident, he talked about playing sledge hockey. That hasn't changed.
"Really it's been a goal of mine to wear the Canadian flag on my chest at some point in my life," said Straschnitzki, sporting a black Humboldt Broncos sweatshirt.
"I'm going to go back to Calgary. I'll get set up on the ice, practice the basics to start and then you can start getting into skills. It's like the rehab process — you start small and work your way up."
Sledge hockey is one of the more popular events at the Winter Paralympic Games. It became an official event in 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway.
Instead of skates, players use double-blade sledges that allow the puck to pass beneath. Players use two sticks, which have a spike-end for pushing and a blade-end for shooting.
"You need both hands to move yourself with the picks and the sticks. You have to be sort of ambidextrous and be able to use both," said Straschnitzki.
"I've watched it. It's pretty intense. It's a great game and there's great athletes out there. I can't wait. It's a process but I'm willing to do it. Another challenge."
Tom Straschnitzki said his son is itching to get his life back to normal. Normal involves hockey, he said.
"Basically, he doesn't want to hide what he has. He just wants to be a regular guy and hang with the boys," he said.
Straschnitzki got to spend time with his surviving Broncos teammates at the recent NHL awards in Las Vegas. Although they've kept in touch, being with his friends again was special.
"Seeing them for the first time was amazing. It's like time stops when you're in the room again."
Straschnitzki could be allowed to return back to Canada in the next week if suitable temporary housing is found in Airdrie while the family home is being renovated to accommodate a wheelchair.
Sixteen people died April 6 when a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos to a playoff game collided with a semi-trailer at a rural intersection. Thirteen others, including Straschnitzki, were injured.
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Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press