The Granite City Lumberjacks junior hockey team will be wearing an alternate jersey for their NA3HL games Friday and Saturday at Sports Arena East. It is not a marketing ploy, but it is for a good cause.
The jerseys worn by the players will be auctioned off after Saturday’s game against St. Louis. All proceeds will go to help pay for Ezra McPhail’s medical expenses.
McPhail, a 20-year-old forward from Antigo, Wis., suffered an incomplete spinal cord injury playing in a game for the Lumberjacks on Dec. 6 in Darien, Ill. McPhail is walking again with the assistance of arm crutches. He suffered a T5 spinal injury when he went to check an opposing player, who ducked, and McPhail’s head went into the boards.
He found out two weeks ago that the Lumberjacks, who had been selling T-shirts and wrist bands to help with his medical costs, were going to do this weekend’s benefit.
“I thought it was the coolest thing ever,” said McPhail, who was in his second season with Granite City. “People asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I told them at the time that I wanted to be out on the ice one more time with my ‘Jacks.”
McPhail will do that when he goes through the team’s warm-up drills before the games in a sled. He is learning how to play sled hockey, which provides opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in hockey.
Players sit in sleds and there are two sticks for each player instead of one and the sticks have metal picks on the butt end for players to propel themselves in sled hockey.
“I’m still learning,” McPhail said. “I started playing with the Minnesota Northern team, which is made up of adults 18 and older. Some of the players have been playing for five years and they’re teach me a lot.
“I’ve learned a lot about turning. I still haven’t figured out how to stop.”
But McPhail said that playing with the Northern is a great experience.
“I love it,” said McPhail, who skated with the team for the first time on Sunday and had previously played sled hockey with youth players in Wisconsin. “I haven’t had so much fun skating since (Granite City) won the Bush Cup (last season).
“It was just a blast.”
After he was injured, McPhail was in a Chicago hospital before transferring to Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in Minneapolis. McPhail, whose dream was to play college hockey, spent about 3 1/2 weeks there as he worked on learning to walk again.
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