A life-changing hit [UPDATED]Published 11:12am Wednesday, February 8, 2012 Updated 11:12am Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Fergus Falls native Brian Franklin has lived a full life outside of athletics, but even though he played 20 years ago, he still thinks back to a day that changed his life. Three games into his sophomore year of hockey an illegal body shot ended his hockey career.
“In December of 1991, I suffered a career-ending neck injury during a game against Alexandria,” said Franklin, a 1994 graduate of Fergus Falls High School. “The hit was illegal for two reasons: first, the hit occurred after the whistle, and second, the hit was from behind, causing me to fall head-first into the boards. I had the wind knocked out of me, but I was eventually able to skate off of the ice.”
After the injury, Franklin suffered headaches and other aliments, and went to local doctors and specialists in Fargo and Minneapolis.
“It was eventually determined that I had (a) vertebrae out of alignment where my head connects to my neck,” said Franklin. “The damage was severe enough for doctors to determine that it was too much of a risk for me to participate in contact sports for the remainder of my lifetime.”
While he remembers wearing a neck brace for three months, the injury seemed like it happened so fast.
“At the most, I thought I experienced a concussion,” said Franklin. “I had no idea that more damage had been done to my neck. I did not go to the doctor until the following morning as a precautionary measure.”
He was fully conscious all throughout the incident and was eventually able to skate off the ice.
“It seemed like my high school career prematurely ended before it even began,” he said.
Twenty years has passed since the devastating injury, but the youth hockey coach still asks himself what his life would be like if hadn’t experienced the life-altering hit.
“Not being able to pursue my dreams has been the hardest factor for me over the years,” he said. “And even to this day, I am still bothered by the fact that I did not have the opportunity to continue my hockey career.”
He continues to be involved with hockey today, coaching a local youth team and playing in a local non-checking men’s league.
“Even though I currently coach hockey, it is still hard to be around the game of hockey at times,” he said. “I often still feel angry that I was not able to continue my playing career. I have accepted my injury, but it is still very bothersome to me that I was unable to pursue my dreams. At the same time, I recognize that it could’ve been much worse. I am not paralyzed, and I am able (to) live a normal life.”
Players on his teams are taught proper checking technique; not to use it as a weapon, but rather a skill.
“As a coach, I believe that the most important thing we can do is to teach players proper body contact and checking techniques,” Franklin said. “The purpose of a body check is not to injure an opposing player, but rather to take the opposing player off of the puck.”
Franklin is optimistic that the youths are in good hands with state and national officials.
“Hockey is a contact sport, so there is always that possibility of spinal cord injuries,” he said. “I don’t think that we can completely eliminate the threat of spinal cord injuries. However, I do think we can take steps to severely decrease the chance of such injuries. USA Hockey and Minnesota Hockey have done an excellent job of implementing rules and programs to decrease the chance of severe injury.”
Franklin said education for coaches, referees, parents and players is important to make the game as safe as possible.