When someone breaks their leg, especially a gifted athlete, it’s usually devastating. For Vancouver Canucks prospect Hunter Shinkaruk, it may have been one of the best things to happen to him.
Shinkaruk was a wide-eyed 14-year-old kid recently drafted into the Western Hockey League in the first round of the 2009 Bantam Draft. A star at every level of hockey he had played, Shinkaruk was three games into his Alberta Midget Hockey League season playing with the Calgary Royals Midget AAA team when he took a hit and his skate got stuck in the ice, causing him to fall awkwardly, snapping two bones in his leg along the way.
“I got hit and my toe got planted into the ice,” said Shinkaruk, who was two days shy of his 15th birthday when it happened. “I fell back and my toe stayed in the ice. My leg basically just bent back until it snapped.”
The result was a broken tibia and fibula, sidelining the Calgary, Alberta-born sniper for the entire season, a season which was supposed to be a big year of development before he embarked on his WHL career.
“I didn’t really know how bad the break was right away,” he said. “I was just named to the Under-16 roster and was planning on playing in that tournament in two weeks, but then I found out I broke both bones in my leg and was going to miss the whole season.”
One would think a season missed would be devastating for a player, young or old, but Shinkaruk feels it may have been the best thing to happen to him. Going through that adversity at such a young age abled him to become mentally tougher, preparing him for the rigours of junior hockey.
“I think that year allowed me to mature a lot as a kid,” he said. “It was definitely tough missing a year of hockey, but it allowed me to explore more of the mental side of the game. Up until that point my hockey career was pretty smooth sailing and when that happened there was a lot of adversity. I matured a lot and it got me prepared for my 16-year-old year in the Western Hockey League.”
Not only did it prepare Shinkaruk mentally, but it also helped him physically, as the rehab work he had to do introduced him to the world of off-ice training, something he had little experience in.
“I think breaking my leg also allowed me to work out a little more,” he said. “Up until that point of my life I had never really done any off-ice training, so when I went to the WHL I was a little more prepared with that.”
Shinkaruk didn’t get back on the ice until midway through the following summer, but he didn’t seem to miss a beat. The 5-foot-10 forward posted 42 points in 63 games in his rookie season with the Medicine Hat Tigers along with nine points in six games at the World Under-17 Challenge.
“I was a little bit surprised on how well my transition was.”