Abbey MacLellan, whose face was broken in five places after being hit with a field hockey ball, has rejoined her team a year later, but at the same time she's questioning the safety rules for the sport.

'I feel like it's almost like ice hockey was. You know, 50 years ago people didn't wear helmets or have face masks.' - Abbey MacLellan

MacLellan moved from her home on Prince Edward Island last September to join the UBC Thunderbirds. It was an exciting time, but her experience was interrupted when a pass went awry during her very first game. The ball struck her in the cheek. She collapsed immediately, but she still remembers it vividly.

"It's a weird sensation to try to explain, just having that sensation of your face shattering," MacLellan told CBC's Island Morning.

"It's very traumatic. It's different than breaking another bone in your body, maybe in your wrist or something like that. Your face is such a core part of who you are."

'Lucky' injury wasn't worse

She was taken to hospital where doctors found she had a concussion and five broken bones in her face. But doctors could not fix her up right away. She had to wait a week for the swelling to subside so her face could be properly reconstructed.

Even after surgery, MacLellan was on a liquid diet while her jaw healed. But she still considers herself lucky.

"In a way it was perfect the way it happened, as bad as that is to say," MacLellan said.

Abbey MacLellan in hospital with field hockey injury

Though she had a concussion and five broken bones in her face, MacLellan says it could have been worse. (Submitted by Abbey MacLellan)

"If it had been inches to the left or right I would have had significant brain damage or lost my eye. So as terrible as it was I can't complain too much because I'm lucky not to have those things happen."

MacLellan considered quitting the sport, but said she worked too hard to get to where she is. She began exercising again when her concussion symptoms subsided in December, and was back with the team for the 2017-18 season.

She is still not fully healed, with numbness in parts of her face, and wears a face mask to protect herself until her recovery is complete.

Doctor's note required for face mask

The Thunderbirds are part of the Canada West athletic conference, which follows the rules outlined by the Fédération Internationale de Hockey (FIH).

Under those rules, players require a "medical reason" that has been "assessed by an appropriate authority" to wear a face mask during games.

Masks can also be worn "when defending a penalty corner or penalty stroke," but those masks have to be removed when regular play resumes.

"I know it's probably not realistic to say starting tomorrow, everyone needs to wear [a face mask], but … I think even just allowing people to have the choice to wear them, I think it makes a big difference," she said.

"The conference follows the FIH's lead on all rules and regulations, including those pertaining to player safety," Rocky Olfert, the managing director Canada West, said in a written statement.

"As a conference, we believe discussing ways to improve player safety is important and encourage all our student-athletes, coaches and administrators to engage in this conversation, as we look to provide a safe and enriching athletic experience."

Players faster and stronger

MacLellan said while her injury was extreme, facial injuries from sticks or balls are not uncommon in the sport.

"People get black eyes and things like that all the time," she said.

"I feel like it's almost like ice hockey was. You know, 50 years ago people didn't wear helmets or have face masks."

Field hockey is changing, MacLellan said. The players are faster and stronger. She worries more people will be hurt before the rules change.

"Eventually more safety regulations get put in place," she said. "I feel like field hockey, the safety of the game has to evolve to match the speed of the game."

With files from Maggie Brown