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VIDEO: Humboldt Broncos crash survivor happy to skate again in Surrey

Rehabing hockey player Layne Matechuk treated by team with Surrey Neuroplasticity Clinic
Layne Matechuk at Excellent Ice arena in Surrey on Thursday (Nov. 18). The former Humboldt Broncos junior hockey player, 21, is taking part in a 14-week program through Surrey Neuroplasticity Clinic to help him play recreational hockey one day. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

At a rink in Surrey, former Humboldt Broncos hockey player Layne Matechuk is skating again, and he’s loving it.

“I feel like I’m getting back to how I used to be playing hockey,” he said with a smile at Excellent Ice on Thursday (Nov. 18). “I really like getting back on the ice.”

Matechuk, 21, along with his parents Shelley and Kevin, traveled to Surrey from Colonsay, Sask., this month to take part in the neuro-rehabilitation program at Surrey Neuroplasticity Clinic.

The physical therapy includes use of a PoNS device (Portable Neuromodulation Stimulator), which electronically buzzes the surface of the tongue, exciting the neural pathways to the brain.

• RELATED STORY: ‘Life-changing’ Surrey brain treatment helps woman heal years after hit-and-run.

Layne, a right-shot defenceman, was seriously injured in the catastrophic Broncos bus crash of April 2018, when 10 players with the Saskatchewan junior team were killed, along with two coaches, a statistician, broadcaster, bus driver and athletic therapist.

More than three years later, Layne wants to play recreational hockey again one day, and the Surrey clinic is helping him achieve that goal.

“Some days we think that’s not ever going to be possible,” said Kevin Matechuk, Layne’s father, “but then we see him on the ice here and see his improvements, and yeah, he could be able to do what he loves the most, some day. It’s really encouraging to us that he keeps working toward his goal.”

FROM THE ARCHIVES (June 2018): Injured Broncos hockey player out of coma, unable to speak; Defenceman Layne Matechuk’s family said he was in a coma for the first month.

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In Surrey, Layne has been doing full days of treatment for two weeks, including on-ice work with Brodie Jackson and Balraj Dhillon. Back home in Colonsay, he’ll continue more treatments with virtual supervision by the Surrey Neuroplasticity Clinic team.

“Skating isn’t part of the program, but they are very good there and are incorporating that to help Layne, because it’s important to him, his goal,” Kevin noted.

“This is a 14-week program,” he added, “and we’ve been here for about two weeks. His therapists developed a program for him to take home, and he’ll be using the PoNS device at home, too. After that we’ll come back here for a final week, and it’ll be good to see where he’s at, from where he started to that point.”

So far, so good.

“His walking, his limp, it’s not nearly as bad now,” Kevin said, “and his drag when he’s skating is not as bad now, on his right side. It’s little things, but big things.

“His mood is in a better place,” Kevin continued. “The way he walked before, it took a lot of energy to walk that way, so now it’ll take less of his energy and hopefully he won’t be played out as easy. The long-term effects should be huge. It’s heartwarming for him to see that and realize he is getting better, and motivating when he notices those differences.”

Layne will continue skating back home, a few times a week.

“It was about a year after the accident that he was first on the ice,” Kevin recalled, “so he’s been out there, and with this (program) he’s hoping to skate more and more. When he first started, he had to hang on to something to skate, and he was quite discouraged at first, but every time he got out there, he was better and better. And we’re just happy to see the improvements, and we think this PoNS device will really help, and it appears it is.”

Kevin admitted to “some dark days” for the family in recent years, and the pandemic made things worse.

“The rinks and everything closed down, and being confined to the house, it’s been tough to find things to keep him motivated, but we just keep looking and not give up, and it’s paying off,” Kevin said. “It’s a lot of work but we try not to look at it that way, we just want to do the best for our son and keep helping him achieve his goals.”

During a break from skating at Excellent Ice, Layne said he’s enjoyed his two-plus weeks in Surrey.

“It’s different, a couple provinces away from home, but I really like my trainers and I feel like I’m really improving with this PoNS device, and I really think anyone who could use it, should.”

The trip to Surrey has been “huge” for the Saskatchewanians, Kevin confirmed.

“We’re all so happy that we heard about the program, which is pretty new. The sky’s the limit, you know. We’ll see where it takes us.”

• READ MORE: Basketball on the brain: Athletes monitored at Surrey clinic with NeuroCatch system.

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Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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