In 2011, three years after losing his left hand in an electrical accident, Vernon's Curt Minard skated back onto the ice. A year later, he was helping Canada win gold at the world amputee hockey championships in Finland. Now, he's bringing it home with a hockey camp for amputees hailing from all over Western Canada.
Minard, 33, remembers arriving an hour and a half early just to get dressed for that first game in Vernon. He was still getting used to his prosthetic hand, and the attachment that connected it to his hockey stick.
"My kids had been pushing me to play hockey with them, and I didn't really believe I could do it, at least not like I used to," Minard says. "But somehow, they and my wife talked me into it."
A work-related accident in Invermere left Minard amputed at his left wrist. His right hand sustained third degree burns.
He was in rehab for three years, slowly healing and learning how to perform everyday tasks like grabbing a bowl of cereal. He says the biggest challenges were on the inside.
"It's mentally overcoming the trauma, the accident, and believing in yourself," he says.
It took a lot for Minard to get back on the ice.
"I was self-conscious about my prosthetic, I felt like the elephant in the room," Minard says. "Not just in the locker room, but everywhere."
His first game allowed him to face his fears head on.
"I went out there for the first time and I was terrible," Minard says, throwing his head back laughing. "Not going to lie. I was out of shape, and trying to figure out how to use this foreign attachment."
But Minard adapted quickly, and just a year later he was on the national amputee hockey team. The chance to meet and play with other amputees was a life changing experience for Minard.
"I can't even describe the first time I was in a room with a bunch of guys like me, the humour of it, we laughed together... I'm not self-conscious anymore."
Minard chuckles easily about his eight hands, which ones are used for which, and how the pale plastic contrasts with his tan. "I've got a pretty good farmer's tan," he laughs.
In February, Minard became the Western Canadian coordinator for the Canadian Amputee Hockey Committee(CAHC). His first big project is hosting a free camp for amputees of all ages and skill levels.
"This whole experience returning to hockey and participating with the organization has been very rewarding. I want others to get involved, and experience what I've experienced with the CAHC," Minard says. "The lessons I've learned through this have gone off the ice, into (other) aspects of my life."
Team Canada head coach Jamie McGuire from Toronto and former NHL star Dean McAmmond from Vernon will run the camp April 12-14 at the Priest Valley Gym.
"We want to put disability on the ice and give amputees the opportunity to enjoy hockey, meet others, and hopefully get them to stick with it and maybe one day join the national team," Minard says.
Fifteen players have signed up, including two teenage goalies from norther B.C. and northern Alberta. So far, no one from the Okanagan has signed up, but there's still time.
Those interested can contact Minard at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The players will start training Friday, April 12, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. They hit the ice early the next morning, April 13, from 7:17 to 8:45 a.m.
The team will play a scrimmage against the Armstrong Safe Hockey League's Jayhawks Saturday night, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.
A final work out is scheduled from 1:15 to 2:45 p.m. Sunday, April 14.
All practices, and the Saturday game are open to the public, and Minard hopes to attract a good crowd to the bleachers.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at email@example.com or call (250)309-5230.
Curt Minard says getting back on the ice and meeting other amputee players helped melt away the self-consciousness he felt about his prosthetic hand. He hopes to help others overcome the feeling too.
(CHARLOTTE HELSTON / iNFOnews.ca)