By Dan McCaffery
Special to The Journal
When Sean Parker went down with a catastrophic hockey injury last October, his first instinct was to jump back up.
But the veteran Sarnia Legionnaires goalie wasn't going anywhere – except into the back of an ambulance. His neck was broken, his skull was fractured and his career, most fans felt, was over.
"There was a turnover at our blueline and I dove out for the poke-check,” the veteran netminder recalls. “I got a piece of the puck but the other guy (a LaSalle Vipers forward) tripped and lost his balance 10 feet from me. He was coming at full speed and his butt slammed into me. I ended up behind the goal line. It felt like something had hit my funny bone. I knew something was wrong but there was no blood so I tried to get up.”
An examining doctor told Parker he was lucky he could still walk. Lucky, for that matter, to be alive.
"I probably shouldn't be walking right now,” the Forest native says. “The doctor said I was lucky the nerve endings weren't touched. He also said I could have suffocated on the ice had the esophagus been damaged.”
Lucky or not, the 21-year-old faced a long recovery. He wore a neck brace for two months and only got back on the ice, working with Legionnaires goalie coach Paul Burgess, in late February.
Should the team get by the first round of the playoffs, Parker hopes to return. “My neck is healed,” he said. “The doctor was surprised because he'd said earlier that I wouldn't be able to play again until at least next winter.”
Still, Parker has no illusions of resuming his job as No. 1 goalie. “I won't be in shape, for one thing,” he frankly admits. “I just hope to be a backup.”
Some have suggested Parker might flinch the next time a big winger comes barreling down on top of him. “I've been asked that a fair bit,” he admits. “But I think I have the mentality not to be afraid.”
Nor is he giving up his dream of playing college hockey. “A lot of NCAA scouts were looking at me last year but they may have been scared off by my injury. Some of them want to see me back on the ice. They want to see the goalie they saw before.”
Whether they do see that goalie remains to be seen. But one thing is certain – they'll see a guy who eventually got up from that collision.