ST. PAUL -- Travis Roy rolled into the theater room at TRIA Rink at Treasure Island Center on Thursday. Awaiting him were about three dozen people, most about the same age he was when his life changed forever.
Roy was a freshman hockey player at Boston University on Oct. 20, 1995, when he hopped over the boards for his first-ever shift in a Terriers uniform.
Just 11 seconds later, it was all over.
Roy dashed into the corner after a loose puck and went to check an opponent from the University of North Dakota, who moved out of the way. Roy crashed awkwardly into the boards head first, fracturing his fourth and fifth vertebra, leaving him a quadriplegic.
Eleven seconds was the difference between a kid with his entire future in front of him to one laid prone on the ice, unable to move from the neck down.
It's been almost 25 years since the accident ended his hockey career, ended his ability to walk and ended his relatively "normal" life, but walking into a room filled with young hockey players is still hard for him.
"It's a little bit bittersweet," Roy told the group. "I love this game, I love this sport. I'm still a little bit broken-hearted but I'm so excited for the opportunity that you guys have."
Roy addressed the Wild's prospects as part of the team's week-long development camp, spending about 45 minutes telling his story and imparting some of the lessons he's learned in the years since.
He talked about the months after the injury confined to a hospital bed, the grueling recovery process as well as his new challenge of living in his new reality.
"My reality is that medical science hasn't figure out a way to connect the messages from brain to my muscles," Roy said. "That's the challenge that chose me. I believe in life, there are times we choose our challenges, we set our goals. And there's other times when the challenges simply choose us. But it's what we do in the face of those challenges that defines who you are."
Roy spoke of his three pre-injury goals: To play Division I hockey, to play in the NHL and to play for the U.S. Olympic team, all goals that seemed reasonable until that October night in 1995.
Eleven seconds after checking off his first goal, he was forced to completely change his mindset.
"That's pretty tough stuff. But for me, it kind of takes your breath away. You could hear a pin drop in that room," said Wild prospect Nico Sturm. "A guy like that, who has worked as hard as everyone that is here and at this camp ... that's all he wanted for his life. For us, that just shows we should never take all this for granted."
A year after sustaining the injury, Roy recalled returning to Boston University in a wheelchair and his first day back at school. He went to the dining hall, got his food and then sat alone at the table to eat his dinner.
"As full and as crowded as that cafeteria was, nobody came and sat down at my table," Roy said. "If there's one thing I encourage you to do, and I know you're in the public eye ... have compassion. Look that person in the eye, even if they have a disability, maybe they're a little bit different. Put a smile on your face and look them in the eye and say hello. That's all I wanted. I just wanted someone to come up to me to see that I was still the same Travis Roy."
Roy also relayed the story of his time in rehab when he went scuba diving. Before getting in the pool, he and four other quadriplegics sat in their wheelchairs and wondered how they would not end up at the bottom of the pool.
Sure enough, 10 minutes later, Roy was in a wetsuit with an oxygen tank strapped to his back. He was lowered into the pool, where the instructor grabbed him by the wrist. His "heavy, awkward, limp body" all of the sudden was set free in the gravity-free confines of the water.
"It felt so natural again, so peaceful, so tranquil," Roy said. "But going scuba diving was a start. I learned that I had so many opportunities if I was only willing to take them.
"How many times do we focus on our limitations? On the things that didn't go right? On the goals that didn't come to fruition? You might get cut from a team or you might get sent down, but opportunity is still there if you choose to see it."
For many young hockey players, they haven't been exposed to much on-ice adversity. They've always been the best player on their team, received the most ice time, played on all the special teams.
But pro hockey promises to be a different beast, and the goal for the Wild is that Roy's message will resonate.
"There's times in life where I don't think you really recognize what you have," said Wild prospect Ivan Lodnia. "You're so used to it. But you have to take a step back and realize what you have and the big picture and the people who are around you. And when you realize what you have, you have to appreciate it."
Roy's final message was to encourage the players to enjoy the entirety of their journey up the ladder. So often, players get too singularly focused on where they are in the lineup, how they're playing during a particular stretch and where they fit in the grand scheme of the team.
Enjoy the whole process, Roy said.
"Appreciate the smell of hockey tape as you tape your stick. The feel of sliding your foot into the boot of your skate. To feel that skate blade eat into the ice," Roy said. "I wish I could feel the ice going across my blades on my skates, just that sensation again.
"Don't ever take it for granted. You are the fortunate ones. You guys are the ones that get a chance to live out the dreams that so many of us never got a chance to. Don't ever settle. Don't ever do anything short of your full potential."
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