It is any hockey player, parent, or fan's worst nightmare: a player on your favorite team goes down on the ice, can't get up, and is put on a stretcher to be further evaluated.
This has been the case for not only one, but two players in the North American Hockey League this season. Below are the stories of Alex Kupka of the St. Cloud Blizzard and Chris Trouba, Captain, of the Johnstown Tomahawks.
We want to show our support to these young men and their families as an entire Topeka community. The Topeka Pilots are hosting an online Holiday Auction full of Inaugural Season Memorabilia for you to bid on not only as great gifts for your favorite Pilots fan, but also to give back and help the families of these two players in a financially trying time.
Below their stories is more information on how you can access the online auction and bid on items to benefit both the Kupka and Trouba families.
Alex Kupka | St. Cloud Blizzard
On September 18, a hockey parent’s worse nightmare unfolded. Alex Kupka, a 17 year old forward from Trnava, Slovakia, suffered a broken C2 vertebrae when he was checked into the boards, while his parents helplessly watched from thousands of miles away.
Alex was playing his first game with the St. Cloud Blizzard of the North American Hockey League at the annual NAHL Showcase, in Blaine, Minnesota. A top prospect who had already garnered interest from some NCAA Division 1 schools, Kupka’s dreams of playing hockey in the United States were shattered in an instant.
As bad as the injury was, it could have been much worse. A fracture to the C2 vertebrae is often fatal or causes paralysis. Thanks to the response of the Blizzard Trainer, who held Alex’s head for nearly 30 minutes on the ice while waiting for the ambulance to arrive, Alex did not sustain damage to the spinal cord. “We’re very thankful and I would say that he had the hockey God’s on his side,” said Blizzard head coach and general manager Moe Mantha. “He walked out of the hospital.”
Kupka is in a halo brace vest, which prevents his head and neck from moving as his spinal column and ligaments heal. He is expected to remain in it for the next three months.
As lucky as Alex is, his family has been dealt a serious financial blow as well. The family was shocked to learn their health insurance would not cover hockey injuries. Thankfully, USA Hockey’s supplemental insurance has covered much of the cost but not all. The family is responsible for a large deductible as well as ongoing therapy treatments in addition to the costs associated with International travel for the parents. As any parent would, the Kupka's immediately flew to Minnesota to be at Alex’ side.
Credit: St. Cloud Blizzard
Chris Trouba, Captain | Johnstown Tomahawks
Johnstown Tomahawks veteran defenseman and team captain, Chris Trouba, suffered a severe neck injury at the beginning of the second period Saturday night (November 23, 2019) versus the Maryland Black Bears.
As he was attempting to make a pass, Trouba was pushed into the boards and landed awkwardly head first. He laid prone on the ice for several minutes until he was able to be safely stretchered out of the arena and transported by ambulance to Conemaugh Hospital.
A CT scan revealed that he had sustained a broken C-6 vertebrae in his neck. Luckily for Chris, his spinal cord was not compromised by the fracture and was not paralyzed as a result.
“For sure, it could have been a lot worse." Tomahawks head coach, Mike Letizia, said. "It's hard to put into words as a coach when an unfortunate situation like that occurs. Chris has been the heart and soul of our team for many years, and it was a horrible moment in our game last night against the Black Bears. Although he did suffer a fracture to his neck, thankfully it was not much worse."
Trouba will now need to wear a neck brace for a minimum of eight weeks, if not longer. Both him and the Tomahawks organization are thankful for the quick response from the team medical staff, Dr. Alex Pozun of Conemaugh Hospital, and the EMS from West End Ambulance, who were able to stabilize Trouba within seconds of the incident occurring.
“Chris is one of the toughest guy I’ve seen and it’s hard to put into words the emotion that we felt watching from the stands as he laid motionless on the ice," said Tomahawks President, Richard Bouchard, "but we are so grateful to our medical staff for taking control of the situation immediately and taking good care of Chris."
Entering his fourth season with the Tomahawks, Trouba has become a pivotal team leader and a mainstay on the Johnstown blue line. The Auburn Hills, MI native was looking to build off his previous season, where he put up 18 points (five goals and 13 assists) in 54 games.
The good news is that the 6'3" defenseman is expected to fully recover and resume his promising hockey career in the next few months.
Credit: Johnstown Tomahawks
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
The Topeka Pilots are hosting an online Holiday Auction through DASH with tons of Inaugural Season Memorabilia. 30% of the proceeds will be split and donated directly to the Kupka and Trouba families.
CLICK HERE to access the online auction. You can then sign in your existing DASH Auction account, or create a new one.
Want to keep up with the auction on the go? Use the photo below for instructions on how to download the app. Once downloaded, log in or create an account, mark the Pilots as your favorite team, and bid away.
Bidding begins Sunday, December 1st at 8am and goes until Saturday, December 14th at noon.
Auction winners can pick up their item(s) at the merchandise booth at the game on December 14. If your item is not picked up at the game we will call you Monday, December 16 with further pickup/delivery information.