By Scott Lauber
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Not for Travis Roy, a 20-year-old hockey player making his debut for Boston University on Friday night. Not for his proud father, Lee Roy, who made the trip with his family from Yarmouth, Maine, to watch his son don the jersey of college hockey’s defending national champions.
Roy was supposed to skate off the ice with his victorious teammates after defeating the University of North Dakota. Instead, paramedics and team physicians carted his motionless body off the ice on a stretcher just two minutes into the game and 11 seconds into his first shift.
Roy was supposed to be at practice today, looking ahead to BU’s next game against the University of Vermont on Saturday. Instead, he lies paralyzed and in traction at the Boston University Medical Center Hospital, awaiting a four to six-hour surgical procedure today to repair the frac- brae in his neck.
“Travis has sustained a fracture of his fourth cervical vertebrae,” BU team physician Tony Schepsis said following Friday night’s game. “He has no movement below the neck. It’s too early to tell for sure, but the statistics on this type of injury are not good.”
Roy spent the weekend in the surgical intensive care unit at Boston City Hospital, where he received treatment to stabilize his spine. Accurate predictions for his recovery could not be made because Roy was still suffering from spinal shock, a condition that is common in cases involving head and neck injuries for 24 to 48 hours after the initial impact, Although he has been breathing on his own, Roy has the assistance of a tube for preventative measures.
“Travis is alert,” Lee Roy said. “The toughest thing he’s fighting right now is the tube that is helping him breathe because he cannot talk to us. One blink is yes and two is no.”
Following an emotional banner-raising ceremony prior to the game, Roy vaulted off the bench and skated hard after a loose puck in BU’s offensive zone. Along the board in the right corner, Roy leaned forward to check North Dakota defenseman Mitch Vig. He grazed Vig with the check, but fell awkwardly, slamming his head into the boards. A benign hit and a routine play that Roy has executed thousands of times in his youth hockey career turned into everyone’s worst nightmare.
“He came into the corner to check me, and he just glanced off my shoulder and kind of fell to his knees,” Vig said. “His head took a real blow, and I knew something was seriously wrong the way his head hit the ice.”
“I’ve seen guys go head-first into the boards at full speed and get up and keep skating,” WABU commentator and former BU assistant coach Mike Eruzione said.
But Roy did not keep skating. After his head made contact with the boards, Roy’s arms flailed outward as he fell to his knees. Then his limp, lifeless body crumpled to the ground. Immediately, the BU training staff exploded onto the ice to treat the injury. BU athletic trainer Larry Venis quickly called for Schepsis and then the stretcher.
“I’ve seen this happen quite a few times where they take all the precautions necessary, thinking that the worst has happened,” Vig said. “When we got back to the hotel, we realized that the worst had happened, and it was just a sickening feeling.”
Doctors tended to Roy’s injuries for approximately 20 minutes and carefully lifted his body onto the stretcher.
“When I first went out, he looked up at me and I said, ‘Trav, it’s a game. Come on and get going,'” Lee Roy said. “He looked at me and he said, ‘Dad, I’m in big trouble. I can’t feel anything. No arms, no legs, and my neck is hurting.’ Then he looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘But I made it.’ And he did. It was short-lived, but he made his goal.”
He certainly did. A self-motivated and driven young man, Roy’s life-long dream was to play for a Division I hockey team. For 11 fleeting seconds, he achieved that goal.
“As a freshman in high school, he came out to talk with his mother and I and said, ‘These are my goals in life,’ and he had them written out,” Lee Roy said. “He said, ‘This is what I want to become,’ and I’ll be very honest with you, I had a hard time keeping a straight face because one of the goals was becoming an above-average hockey player at the Division I level.”
“I guess he achieved a little more than the average [player] because to get on the ice with the defending national champions as one of the six freshmen recruited by [head coach] Jack [Parker] and [associate coach] Blaise [MacDonald] says that he must have been better than most of the others,” he added. “So he made it.”
The Terriers defeated North Dakota, 8-5, for their first victory of the season, but their thoughts were with Roy and his family. Although the team has been unavailable for comment, they held a private meeting on Saturday afternoon to discuss their feelings about the injury.
“The meeting was emotional and soothing more than anything else,” BU head coach Jack Parker said. “The team has decided that at every practice, Travis’ orange practice shirt will be hung on the glass, and at every game, Travis’ game shirt will be hung in the players’ box on our bench with his name on it. At every home game, his white home shirt will be hung. We’ll keep his locker in the dressing room, and his practice shirt will be hung there every day after practice.”
“The minute he can see his teammates, his teammates will be over there to see him,” Parker added.
The Roys are a close-knit family, and so are the Terriers. During Parker’s regime, BU has suffered several tragedies, including goaltender J.P. McKersie’s near-fatal bicycle accident in July 1994. Overcoming adversity is not uncommon for most of the Terriers.
“I don’t think we’re different than most families,” Parker said. “Something bad happens to one of us and we just rally around.
“His mother and I said, ‘Would we do anything different,’ and the answer is absolutely no,” Lee Roy said. “If Travis were told he would have to be paralyzed for the rest of his life, we’d want it done on the ice arena because that’s his home.”
Lee Roy has managed an ice arena in Maine for 20 years, and over the years he has made many connections within the hockey community. Frank Cole, the referee in Friday night’s contest, was a linesman in the AHL when Roy served as a stick boy with Maine. Cole reacquainted himself with Roy while the teams were warming up prior to the game, and the proud father brought his old friend up to date on Travis’ progress.
“I said, ‘Frankie, I spoke with Travis about coming over to say hello to you and let him know who you were’ because when Frank was there [in Maine], Travis was a little tot with white hair,” Lee Roy said. “Frank looked at me and said, ‘That’s him,’ and I said ‘That’s right. He’s number 24 out there on the ice. The little critter finally made it.'”
Travis Roy did make it. Even if he enjoyed only 11 seconds of stardom, Roy became a Division I hockey player with the nation’s most successful team.
“Travis will return to this arena,” Lee Roy said. “It may not be with his skates on, but he’ll be back. He’ll be with the team all year long mentally, wherever he is. Every game, every practice, probably for the next four years that he would’ve been out there.”
Overcoming this horrible injury is the toughest battle that Travis Roy has ever fought. During his 20 years in this world, Roy has made almost every dream a reality and overcame almost every obstacle in his way.
Dr. Schepsis revealed that the odds for complete recovery are not good, but the 5-foot-11, 166-pound forward from Maine has beaten the odds of his entire life. It would be hard to bet against him now.