Hope defies odds in comeback

Mustangs’ forward returns from serious injury in time for U18 major playoffs

JOHN MACNEIL john.macneil@saltwire.com @JohnnyMacHockey



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Sam Hope thought his hockey season was finished in January. The prognosis was bleak after the South Shore Mustangs’ forward suffered a severe cut to his left leg during their final preliminary game at the SaltWire East Coast IceJam U18 tournament in Bedford. Doctors told Hope there was little hope he would return to action this season, and even next year was considered questionable. “I didn’t think I was going to be back, at all,” he said. “I thought my year was over. It was the worst feeling ever.” But the 16-year-old forward from Plymouth, Yarmouth County, defied the odds and made his comeback March 1, just in time for the opening of the Nova Scotia U18 Major Hockey League playoffs. Six weeks earlier, Hope hobbled off the ice during an IceJam game against the Northern (New Brunswick) Moose on Friday, Jan. 13, of all days. He hit a Moose player who then fell and whose skate blade accidentally struck the back of Hope’s leg, just above the heel. “It wasn’t on purpose — it was like a rare freak accident,” said Hope, who continued playing that shift but soon noticed something was amiss. “I got back to the bench and I saw all kinds of blood. My skate was full of blood.” The five-foot-11, 202pound Hope — one of the league’s strongest players — wasn’t so much preoccupied with pain as he was with the fear of a premature end to his season. “I got really lucky,” he said. “I could have been out for the year, even longer, if it fully cut the Achilles (tendon).” At the same time, it was still an overwhelming feeling for Hope, a prospect of his hometown Yarmouth Mariners of the Maritime junior A league. “I’ve never seen Sam cry before, but when you see a guy like that cry or go down, you know he’s hurt,” said Mustangs captain Jared Pitman, the league MVP and a fellow Mariners’ draft choice. “Me and him have been buddies all our life. “On our good run in the IceJam, we lost one of our best players in Sam. It’s good to have him back.” In the game that Hope got hurt, the Mustangs rallied to defeat Northern 5-4 in overtime and advance to the IceJam playoffs, where they won two more games before falling in the semifinals. After a long Friday at the Dartmouth hospital, he returned to the rink later that weekend to support his team from the stands. Hope wore a cast for two weeks before a productive stretch of physiotherapy enabled him to return to the ice for practices in February. “The specialist thought my season was over, but he let physio do all the decisionmaking,” Hope said. “When I saw physio not too long ago, he said it’s all healed up and there’s no limits to what you can do.” When he suited up with the Mustangs for their quarterfinal series against the Cole Harbour Wolfpack, Hope scored three goals and five points in the first three games. “It was a good feeling, especially after thinking my season was over,” said Hope, whose Mustangs won their playoff opener. Since his injury, Hope made an equipment change to mitigate the chance of a similar injury happening to him in the future. He began wearing cut-resistant long socks in his skates. Most of his teammates were already doing so, but Hope had preferred to go barefoot. Unfortunately, he said, that left his feet and legs exposed to greater harm from an errant skate blade. “A lot less chance of it happening, though, if I had the socks I have on now,” said Hope, who turns 17 in April. “They’re special Kevlar socks. They’re cut-proof, so nothing cuts through them. They go right up to the knees. When I’m playing in a game, I don’t really think about that stuff, but it feels a lot safer to have them on.” In the regular season, Hope scored 18 goals and 34 points in 26 games, almost doubling his point total from his rookie year. “My offence, I wasn’t surprised with that,” he said. “But my defence, I felt, came a long way and I was really happy with that. So, overall, I think I had a really good season. “Offensively, I think I could have done better, but it was still good.” Hope partly attributed his strong season to practising with the Mariners each Monday. He also dressed with the junior A team for a December victory over the host Truro Bearcats. “I’m hoping to crack the Mariners’ lineup next year,” said Hope, a Grade 11 student at Ecole secondaire de Paren-Bas. For the second straight spring, Hope will participate in the National Aboriginal Hockey Championship as part of Team Atlantic. This year’s tournament runs from May 7 to 13 in Winnipeg. Among other notable returning players with Atlantic are Dartmouth Steele Subaru goaltender Joey Hawco and Cape Breton West Islanders forward Alex Christmas. “We’re only losing four players, so we’ve got most of the team back this year,” Hope said. “All combined together — meeting new friends and playing good hockey — it should be an overall great experience.”