Hornung: A lot of things came together at the wrong time . . . I don’t think I would describe it as a dirty hit

It happened as two players who were similar in size and style came together beside one team’s goal. There was a collision and one of them tumbled helplessly into the end boards.

“A lot of things came together at the wrong time,” Brad Hornung, who was left a quadriplegic after the play in question, told Austin Davis of the Regina Leader-Post in the spring of 2014. “Probably 100 things had to happen the wrong way, and they all did. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen that often.

“I don’t think i would describe it as a dirty hit.”

Hornung’s Regina Pats were playing the Moose Jaw Warriors on March 1, 1987 — it was a Sunday night — and the home side was on the power play. In fact, it was a 5-on-3 advantage about seven minutes into the second period of game the Pats would win, 6-3.

Hornung was a point-a-game player who saw power-play time, killed penalties and took a regular shift.

Troy Edwards was the same kind of player for the Warriors, and he was out on the penalty kill.

In fact, he was trying to change but his guys weren’t able to clear their zone.

“I was going to make the change,” he told me in March 1994. “And I didn’t.”

Four days after Hornung was injured, Doug Sauter, the Pats’ general manager and head coach, took Edwards to the hospital where he visited with Brad and the Hornung family.

“I had to see him myself,” Edwards said. “Brad said he didn’t blame me . . . that gave me peace of mind. It took a huge weight off my shoulders.”

Of the Hornung family, Edwards said: “They were really good to me. They don’t bear any animosity against me. They said they want me to keep on going, to keep on playing and Brad said that, too. So that really made me feel good. They were really good to me . . . I can’t explain it . . . they’re great.”

Still, Edwards said his immediate impulse was to quit.

“I just felt like packing it in,” he said. “You see that and it just kept on going through my head . . . seeing that picture all the time. I just wanted to quit. I didn’t feel it was worth it to see that happen.

“The picture of him going into the boards . . . you visualize it when you’re home alone or something, just by yourself. It comes back. I just felt like quitting right there.”

Why didn’t he quit? He talked with Sauter. He got tremendous support from the Hornung family. And his teammates were there for him.

“Kevin Herom came off the ice and said to me, ‘I’m not going out there if you’re not going out there.’ He’s really good,” Edwards said. “Guys like that. (Dave) Thomlinson, (Mike) Keane, they’re really supportive. (Coach Greg) Kvisle was really good. (Pat) Beauchesne, I live with him and he phoned me. They were all great.”

His family was there for him, too, especially when he went home for a couple of days in the immediate aftermath.

“It was one of those times in life when you need your family and they were there supporting me,” he said.

Edwards also drew some comfort from knowing that “I would never do anything like that. I think people who know hockey, and know me, know I would never try anything like that. So I’ve just got to bear with it and try to put it out of my mind.”

He also recognized something else.

“It’s kind of ironic,” he said. “We’re both kind of the same type of players. We noth did our job and stuff. His favourite team is the New York Islanders. Mine is, too. He likes (Bryan) Trottier. I like Trottier.

“It could have been me. It could have been the other way around.”

Edwards and Hornung would see each other on occasion as the years went on. In the spring of 1993, Edwards’ mother was in the Wascana Rehabilitation Centre after having suffered a stroke. “I saw Brad then. We had a real good talk,” a smiling Edwards told me in 1994.

Edwards would go on to finish his junior career with the Warriors. He had a 16-game stint as a professional, then spent a couple of seasons with the U of Regina Cougars before finishing up in senior hockey in his hometown with the Highway Hockey League’s Raymore Rockets.

By then, he was playing for the fun of it. But it wasn’t easy.

“People point fingers at me. And I still get it . . . every rink I go into,” Edwards told me after some prodding. “Women who are older than my mother” would yell at him. “Paralyzer” they would scream at him from the stands.

After chatting with Edwards in March 1994, I wrote:

“Edwards plays now because he loves the game and being with the guys; it’s the camaraderie; it’s watching Rod Houk hold centre stage in the Raymore Hotel. The good times.

“But he’s never alone. Brad Hornung is always with him. The reminders are constant. Every time Edwards sees a handicapped parking sign, for example, he thinks of Hornung.

“What happened is part of Edwards. He knows that. He doesn’t understand it but he’s come to accept it. He had to. It’s a cliche but life does go on.

“Troy Edwards is living proof of that.”

A few days before Edwards and I had that conversation, there had been a check in another hockey game and another player was left a quadriplegic. Edwards spent two hours with the player who had delivered the check.

His message?

“You can’t spend your time asking why . . . wondering why. If you do, you’ll drive yourself crazy.”

Hornung lived life of courage and grace . . . Wouldn’t allow his circumstances to shorten his horizons

Brad Hornung was a remarkable person. He really was.

Hornung, who died on Tuesday at the age of 52, spent almost 35 years in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down after he was injured in a hockey game on March 1, 1987. Circumstances didn’t prevent him from living a life of courage and grace.

He was 18 and in his second season with the WHL’s Regina Pats when he was injured. A solid player with strong defensive skills, he was producing a point a game and was certain to have been selected in that summer’s NHL draft when it all came crashing down in the blink of an eye.

We got an idea of what kind of person Hornung was shortly after he was injured. At the time, doctors were of the opinion that he wouldn’t ever again be able to breathe on his own. He quickly proved them wrong.

“That was my goal,” he would say later, “not to be dependent on a ventilator to breathe. Back then, they were big huge machines.”

Eventually, he was able to get around in a specialized wheelchair. It had electrodes in pads on the headrest and he was able to manoeuvre it by applying pressure with the back of his head. Yes, it took him a while to master it. “I took out a salad bar one day,” he told author Roy MacGregor, who included a chapter on Hornung in his book The Home Team: Fathers, Sons & Hockey.

Even after what happened, Hornung was goal-oriented. He graduated from high school. He earned a degree from the U of Regina. He worked for the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks and then for NHL Central Scouting.

In an interview with Austin Davis of the Regina Leader-Post in the spring of 2014, Hornung said:

“The game of hockey has been good to me. It’s been good to my family. My Dad made a living in it. He loved it. I love it.

“I didn’t feel any bitterness or any anger towards it. I don’t think most people would be (angry), because I don’t consider myself to be any different than anybody else.”

Hornung spent most of the last 35 years of his life at the Wascana Rehabilitation Centre in Regina, where he had his own room. He didn’t spend a lot of time feeling sorry for himself.

As he told Davis, “I’ve had a full life here. I haven’t had any limitations. I’ve been able to travel and do a lot of things.”

On June 8, 2018, the U of Regina saluted Hornung by presenting him with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. In addressing the gathering at the Conexus Arts Centre during the spring convocation, Hornung said:

“I am not a special or isolated case, because I see this happen every day. And we are seeing it in the recovery of those who were affected by the Humboldt Broncos bus tragedy. If there is a moral to my story, it is that people tend to underestimate themselves and how well they would react to different circumstances.”

Shortly after, Hornung closed with this:

“The bad news is that unpleasant things are going to happen to all of you at one time or another in your lives. Sadly, that is a fact.

“The good news, however, is that you have the strength within you to face these challenges in ways you cannot even imagine right now. Happily, that is also a fact. And it is the most important one to remember.

“Congratulations on your graduation, and please don’t ever forget — even in what may seem like your darkest hour, there is always a place in your life for hope.”

So don’t be sad over the fact that Brad Hornung no longer is with us. Rather, be happy that we had him with us for as long as we did and admire him for what he was able to do with his life.

Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post has more right here and right here.

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