The Crimson Bears hockey team came from behind against Lathrop Saturday to take its first victory of the season, 2-1, but it was the events leading up to the game that the players will remember for a long time.
On the way to the team's Saturday morning contest at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, an SUV driven by assistant coach Tom Rutecki was hit in the middle of an intersection near the location of the game.
Rutecki said he was turning left with a protected green arrow when a truck driven by a young woman smashed into the back, left side of the vehicle.
"We got into the left-turn lane, we had a green arrow and I waited until I could go," he said. "From what I can remember, one of the kids yelled 'look out' and I looked up and there was a vehicle bearing down on us.
"The thing that sticks out to me is how unexpectedly and how suddenly it happened. It was unbelieveable."
He said the boys sitting in the back saw the car coming and said the woman seemed to make no effort to stop or slow down. He also said there were no skid marks on the road which would have shown there to be at least an effort to stop.
Rutecki said he hit the gas and turned left at the last second, avoiding what would surely have been a mid-car, broadside collision. He said four of the players traveling in his vehicle were taken to the hospital and were treated for minor injuries.
Seniors Robin Woodby and John Kenyon were both flown back to Juneau ahead of schedule because of injuries sustained in the accident.
Rutecki said Kenyon suffered a fractured pelvis, which may cause him to miss the rest of his last hockey season, but will heal on its own without any surgery. Rutecki said Kenyon was walking after the accident occurred, and his injury could take several weeks to heal. He also said Woodby was sent home with a possible mild concussion.
There was a light-hearted moment in the incident, however. Rutecki said junior Cole Carnahan, who was sitting in the front passenger seat during the accident, was nowhere to be found afterward.
"Finally, once everybody got there - the firemen were there doing their stuff - I was able to go to the passenger side where he (Carnahan) was and I asked the guys, 'hey, where's Cole.' The other kids said, 'he walked to the rink.' I could have hugged him and killed him at the same time," Rutecki said laughing.
Rutecki stayed with the four young men who were treated at the hospital.
He said the airbags in the SUV deployed and prevented damage that could have been much worse. The other members of the team were traveling in 15-passenger vans. He said the damage and injuries would have been far worse had they been in one of the vans.
While in the hospital, the boys' teammates picked up the slack on the ice.
After losing 4-1 on Friday night, the Bears responded with a great effort in their 2-1 victory on Saturday.
There was talk of canceling the game in wake of the car accident, but coach Dave McKenna said they wanted to play the game.
"It was kind of frightening and I'm glad nobody got hurt worse than they did," he said. "The kids showed a lot of courage to rise above it all and play one of the best games they put together this year.
"As much as a win felt good, it was tarnished by the fact that we had players hurt that day. That's our primary concern."
McKenna said the team played a great game, especially since they were down several players.
"Matt Noreen was in net and he was outstanding for us," he said of his goalie, who had 57 saves in the game. "We had kids playing positions they were not accustomed to. We had a team that was about half the size of what we normally have. Like I said, the kids showed a lot of courage to rise up and give it their all."
He said the team trailed 1-0 going into the second period until Bill Holbrook tied the game off an assist from Nick Mow. Zander Hoke scored the eventual winning goal with just over four minutes left in the second period. He was assisted by Zach Bicknell.
On top of the injuries, he said that two others came down with stomach viruses during the trip.
The Bears continue their road trip tonight in Wasilla against Houston at 7 p.m.
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