Ex-Humboldt Bronco Layne Matechuk has hope for revamped hockey dream

Humboldt bus crash survivor Layne Matechuk displays a tattoo he got in memory of the crash at his home in Saskatoon. (Liam Richards/CP)

The damage to Layne Matechuk’s face was so extensive that horrible, wintery night, his parents relied on the tattoo on the inside of his right arm to help identify him in hospital.

Long before the Humboldt Broncos bus crash killed 16 of his friends and altered the course of his life, the young defenceman had the initials PMA inscribed in his skin as a reminder to keep a positive mental attitude.

It’s those three letters that have guided Matechuk to a remarkable series of milestones since the accident that included seeing him return to the ice this week in a viral video shot in his hometown rink in Colonsay, Sask.

“Hockey was his life – it’s all he ever wanted to do, so to see him out there warmed our hearts,” said his proud father, Kevin, who posted the footage on Twitter.

“His mom asked him how he’d rate today from one to 10 and he said ‘11.’ He recognized he improved a lot.”

It was the first time he’d been on skates since last February, when COVID-19 threw yet another obstacle in his way.

His dreams of pro hockey were ended April 6, 2018, when his team’s bus was t-boned by a tractor trailer on a Saskatchewan highway.

But the marked improvement in his shot, stride and puck control give new hope to his revamped hockey dream.

“My goal is to play on a rec team,” said the 20-year-old, slowly.

“It felt pretty good. A lot better.”

Layne spent one month in a coma and six months in hospital with a significant brain injury and other ailments following the crash he has no memory of. Against significant odds, he learned to walk and talk again, thanks to extensive physical and speech therapy, not to mention a will that prompted him to have “Believe” and his number 28 added to his right arm.

His father got the same tattoo.

Layne has eleven plates in his face and is still facing two more facial surgeries, including one to re-break his jaw. He walks with a noticeable limp and has limited use of his right arm. Doctors were still removing glass from Layne’s body almost a year after the accident.

Despite making tremendous progress, it’s still hard for him to articulate his thoughts.

“My speaking has gotten a lot better,” said Layne, who was drafted by the Medicine Hat Tigers in 2015.

“When I met (Sidney) Crosby it wasn’t the best, but it’s better since then.”

Layne is hoping his meeting with the Penguins superstar in Pittsburgh last year is one of many he’ll continue to have with players as part of his recalibrated career path.

“I wanted to become a chiropractor and a teacher before, but now what I want to do for a job is be a personal trainer so I can train hockey players,” he said.


“We’re working on trying to get the brain to connect with the rest of his body,” said Kevin, who takes turns with his wife Shelley driving Layne to Regina for therapy three times a week, two hours and 20 minutes away from their hamlet of 450.

“He had major head trauma so learning to walk was a huge milestone they told us not to expect. Talking, too. He still struggles with his speech. The progress on the ice from February to now was mind blowing for us. Back then, he was taking baby steps and was wobbly, not stable. He could raise the puck but didn’t have the puck control near what he has now. He’s got a long way to go, but after seeing him on the weekend, there probably is the potential he can play rec hockey one day. All summer he said he was going to play this winter and he’s working hard to play in some capacity again.”

Thankful for the prayers and donations he and his teammates received from well-wishers around the world following the crash that also injured 12 others, Layne recognizes the love and support from his parents and family members have played a huge role in his progress.

“They’ve been amazing,” he said.

“I don’t know where I’d be without their support.”

Dad says they’ve certainly leaned on one another through a process that has seen him and his wife have to alter their jobs, and even move to Saskatoon for a time, to assist in their son’s recovery.

“He’s learned for us, as well as him,” said Kevin, who proudly posted video this summer of Layne wake surfing.

“To see the progress like this, it’s all worth it. He was pretty banged up and brain injuries vary so much. He’s not a quitter and we’re very proud of him. Just yesterday he looked to see when public skating was again. He’ll be there when the door opens.”

So will mom and dad, with camera in hand, documenting more cherished moments in the Colonsay and District Sports Centre he calls home.

“I threw (the video) on Twitter and the positive response is overwhelming,” said Kevin of the clip that was retweeted by the NHL and viewed almost a quarter of a million times.

“I read the comments to Layne and let him know what an inspiration he is. It means a lot.”

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