Quadriplegic Moose Jaw Warriors scout says hockey can be key to 'pushing through'

Justin Rayner knows what it’s like for one accident to change your life and your relationship with hockey forever. Now, he's reaching out to the survivors of the Humboldt crash.

Rayner wants to tell injured Broncos it's possible to stay in the game

Broncos player Ryan Straschnitzki (left) was paralyzed from the chest down in the crash on April 6. Moose Jaw Warriors scout Justin Rayner (right), who is a quadriplegic, hopes to offer Straschnitzki support as he transitions to life in a wheelchair. (@straszr on Twitter/Submitted photo)

Justin Rayner knows what it's like for one accident to change your life and your relationship with hockey forever.

The scout for the WHL Moose Jaw Warriors was just 13 when he suffered a spinal cord injury during a bantam hockey game and became a quadriplegic in 2004.

He said it took him two years to go back into a rink, not because of flashbacks, but because he couldn't stand to not be on the ice himself.
Rayner said he spent five months in Regina General Hospital and another 16 at the Wascana Rehabilitation Centre after he fractured two vertebrae in his neck during a hockey game. (Supplied by Justin Rayner)

When the Humboldt Broncos bus collided with a semi on April 6, 16 people died and 13 others were injured.

Broncos defenseman Ryan Straschnitzki was paralyzed from the chest down in the crash. His neck, back and left clavicle are broken and he's not expected to walk again.

Despite the life-changing injuries, Straschnitzki has expressed an interest in continuing his athletic career. While he can no longer skate, he said he plans to take up sledge hockey and maybe even try out for the Olympic team.

"I was really proud of him," Rayner said. "I'm really impressed by his mindset that soon after an accident. It takes a lot of strength to carry on after something like that."

Ryan Straschnitzki is still processing the devastating loss of his teammates, coaches, bus driver and others as he recovers from his injuries in a Saskatoon hospital, his mother says. (Submitted by Tom Straschnitzki)

Rayner said he was shocked and heartbroken to hear of the crash. Soon after, he was pulled to reach out to the injured players, especially Straschnitzki.

"I don't have the same situation as him but I have a perspective of going through an injury like that and feeling like your hockey career is over in a way," he said. "I just wanted to share with him my support and offer an ear to listen if he needs it in any way."

Determination fueled by sport

Rayner has a successful career in the game despite his injuries. He said there is plenty of ways former players can stay in the game, whether through playing sledge hockey, coaching, scouting or even as a fan.

Following his injury, Rayner said his envy and anger held him back, but said Straschnitzki seems to be progressing faster.

The only thing you can do is just keep fighting.- Justin Rayner, Moose Jaw Warriors scout

"He has the determination, I'm sure, to handle the situation and some of that comes from being a hockey player," Rayner said.

"We go through injuries and we head to the dressing room, get stitched back up and go out for another shift. So, it's kind of the mindset of a hockey player to just handle what comes your way and keep pushing through it."

Rayner said he will be in talks with Warriors' general manager Allen Millar to formulate a plan for reaching out to Straschnitzki. He said he wants to take jerseys to all the injured players and "talk hockey," something he said really helped him when he was recovering.

"You've got to handle each day as it comes. There's going to be a lot of bad days ahead. A lot of 'why me' situations and really, the only thing you can do is just keep fighting," he said.