'A different perspective:' Paralyzed Bronco prepares for first game since crash

CALGARY — It might be a fun, trash-talking, celebrity sledge hockey game but to Ryan Straschnitzki, it's no joking matter.

In the Cowboys N Sleds Charity Sledge Hockey game Saturday, the former Humboldt Bronco and a team of all-stars, including country singer George Canyon, will take on drivers and outriders from the World Professional Chuckwagon Association and Ryan's father, Tom.

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For Straschnitzki, who was paralyzed from the chest down in the April 6 bus crash that claimed 16 lives, it's his first time in a game since the accident.

"It's going to be different for sure. I'm going to have to get used to things. I know I'm going to fall. I know I'm going to make mistakes, but it's learning from that," he said following a physiotherapy session this week.

Sledge hockey is one of the more popular sports at the Paralympic Winter Games and became an official event in 1994.

Instead of skates, players use double-blade sledges that allow the puck to pass beneath. Players use two sticks, which have a spiked end for pushing and a blade for shooting.

Straschnitzki has been working with former national sledge team member Chris Cederstrand to learn the sport and hopes to represent Canada at the Olympics.

"I think Chris is going to set me up for a few goals so hopefully that can happen, but I've never been much of a goal scorer, so maybe I'll just set people up," he said with a laugh.

"It's being on the ice again, but with a different perspective."

Cederstrand, who played in the Western Hockey League for the Red Deer Rebels and Swift Current Broncos, had his right leg amputated above the knee following a workplace accident. He said Straschnitzki's progress has been amazing.

"There's almost no words for me to describe how well he's doing out there and I know it's a frustrating experience for him still. He's so soon out of this accident. I've never seen anybody with what he has, progress as fast as he has," said Cederstrand.

He said getting back on ice is good for recovery.

"Hockey's hockey. We're playing hockey and we're sitting and it's a different, but in the end, it's still the same game," Cederstrand said.

"For Ryan to continue on with us and to ultimately give him the goal of representing our country is going to be huge in his rehabilitation process."

The teams appear mismatched. Straschnitzki's team includes Cederstrand, some former hockey players including Cassie Campbell, and Olympic athletes. But most taking part will only get about 20 minutes of practise on the sleds before the game.

"It's a sport that a lot of people look at and think I can do that. Then you actually sit in one of these sleds you find out that you can't," Cederstrand said.

"Two 30 minute periods ... it will be a fatiguing day for these guys."

Funds raised from the event will go to support the StrazStrong Foundation in support of Straschnitzki and STARS Air Ambulance.

Tom Straschnitzki has been having fun promoting the event.

"I've been yapping pretty good," he said. "We'll see Saturday if I can back it up."

He wonders how his son will feel returning to competition.

"It could be good. He could have flashbacks but I think with all of us in the sledge who haven't been in the sledge it evens up the playing field," he said.

"He hasn't said anything about it. He never talks pregame. He never has. I think he'll do fine with it. "

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

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