Once again, the deep-rooted hockey community of Manitoba and beyond has come together to support one of its fallen brothers following an unimaginable tragedy.
On Thursday, December 19, St. Vital Vics’ 19-year-old defenceman Reese Ketler went awkwardly into the corner boards, following a clean check midway through the first period of a Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League game against the Raiders Jr. Hockey Club. The game was called as the seriousness of the matter became apparent. The second-year Vic was transported to hospital without movement in his lower-body.
Reese Ketler suffered severe injuries to his neck and upper back that required surgery to help stabilize four vertebral fractures in his spine. He sustained a spinal cord injury and is ultimately paralyzed from the chest down. Ketler is also dealing with paralysis in his hands. Despite the horrific diagnosis, the soon-to-be 20-year-old and his family have picked up the pieces and begun life on the road to recovery.
Shortly after news of Ketler’s life-changing injury was made public, a Go Fund Me page was created in hopes of raising funds to help assist the family in purchasing new mobility equipment, wheelchairs, vehicle modifications and all other required medical support.
A seemingly lofty goal was set for $250K, but as news spread throughout the hockey community, the donations began to flood in. In just hours, the Reese Ketler recovery fund had hit $40K. After a few more days and a number of community fundraisers, the fund eclipsed the goal of $250K, set just one week prior.
On Sunday, shortly after the donations topped the set goal, Ketler took to Instagram and shared his first public statement since the accident.
“Never in a million years would I picture myself being in this situation,” he wrote. “I’ve learned from a young age that you must make the most out of everything in life and to keep pushing no matter the circumstances. Keeping a positive mentality, working hard and staying focused will lead me to achieve the goals I set for myself before the accident. I’m blown away by all the support that I’ve received. All of the well wishes and encouragement are pushing me forward day by day. I’m grateful for everything.”
Ketler’s Go Fund Me page is currently sitting at $261K raised from 2,300 individual donors around the world. To help assist Reese along his path to recovery, please visit: https://www.gofundme.com/f/reeseketler.
Carol Vercaigne – a friend of the Ketler family – set up the Go Fund Me page and also released a statement as the initiative hit its target.
“We thank each of you for helping reach this goal in support of our dear friends – Reese Ketler and his family; April (Gobert), Trevor and Mitch,” Vercaigne shared. “Your words of encouragement, prayers, reasons for donating, tweets and shares, and taking the time to make a difference in Reese’s new journey have been inspiring… We have no doubt that Reese will apply the same commitment and determination he demonstrated on the ice to his recovery and we know you will help us cheer him on.”
In recent memory, the tragic Humboldt Broncos bus accident also saw the coming together of the hockey community through a Go Fund Me initiative, as donors from around the world helped raise over $11 million to give to the families of the 29 team members on the bus at the time of the horrific accident.
Ketler began his hockey playing career out of Norberry and Greendell at age five. He moved his way through the Dakota A1 programs, ultimately following the system to the AA St. Vital Vics. After one year of Midget AA with the Transcona Railcats, the six-foot, 195-pound defenceman transitioned to high school hockey and suited up for the Dakota Collegiate Lancers of the Winnipeg High School Hockey League, where he had six goals, 11 points and 14 penalty minutes in 26 total games.
Having the opportunity to successfully try out and then lace up for the St. Vital Junior Vics proved to be a dream come true for the mobile rearguard. Ketler broke into the MMJHL as an 18-year-old blueliner, who put up three goals, 12 points and 27 penalty minutes in his first regular season of play, before adding another goal, two assist and two penalties in seven postseason games.
Ketler’s 2019-20 season was off to another strong start, as he helped the Junior Vics to a second-place finish through the first half of the season. In his 20 games played, the former Winnipeg Minor graduate had one goal, eight points and 13 penalty minutes. His goal came in the form of the game-winner in a contest with the River East Royal Knights back on Thursday, October 17.
Despite seeing their teammate taken away on a stretcher and knowing his diagnosis, members of Head Coach Jeff Mitchell’s Vics continued on with their charity work, helping deliver six Christmas hampers to family in need in the local St. Vital area, just days after the tragic event.
In early November the team also participated in the local ‘Hockey Beats Cancer Weekend’, in which the team and community club donated funds to the Canadian Cancer Society to be put towards life-saving research, cancer support services and transportation services offered in Manitoba.
Now down a brother, the team will look to rally in its second half of the season, playing out the duration of its games for their fallen teammate. Currently holding the league’s second-best record at 17-5-4 through 26 games, the Vics will be counting on the support of the local community as they continue to push forward with the season, despite the significant setback.
Already having had a grief counsellor speak with the team and coaching staff, healing has slowly started to begin within the dressing room. But amazingly enough, Ketler’s injury is the fourth of serious nature this season that the resilient Vics have had to battle.
St. Vital is already without captain Ben Coppinger as he continues recovery following a scary eye incident from mid-November. Troy Brown also continues to heal after suffering a ruptured spleen in late October. Last week, the Vics welcomed Aidan Ticknor back to their lineup after recovering from two compression fractures near the base of his spine from a hit in early November.
The St. Vital Junior Vics’ catchment area draws players aged 17-21 from the Dakota, Glenlee, Glenwood, Glendell, Norberry and Windsor Community Centres. The team has been made up annually of 23 players from the Junior A, AAA, AA, A and High School Hockey level for the past 45 years. The yearly schedule of 45 games sees roughly two games and 1-2 practices per week, fitting around the players’ university/work schedules.
To help assist Reese along his path to recovery, please visit: https://www.gofundme.com/f/reeseketler.