Injuries can happen in any situation.
Last season, Jakob Stukel was only 15-years-old. That meant he was only eligible to play five games with the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants, who selected him in the second round of the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft.
He played his fifth game when the Giants played host to the Portland Winterhawks on February 11, 2013.
Vancouver lost 8-3 to the visiting Winterhawks, but despite that, Stukel was able to finish with an assist.
After those five games were up, he had to be sent back to his midget team, the BC Major Midget League’s Valley West Hawks, until their season was complete for the Giants to be allowed to recall him.
Vancouver didn’t have to wait very long, though.
“We lost in the opening round of the playoffs against the Okanagan Rockets,” he recalled. “It was pretty disappointing, they had a good team. We had good goaltending, but we failed to capitalize on some scoring chances and that really hurt us. It was unfortunate, but then the Giants called to me for their last game of the season in Kelowna against the Rockets.”
Vancouver finished with the worst record (21-48-2-0) in the 22-team WHL and missed the playoffs last season.
Meanwhile, at the Stukel family’s home in Cloverdale, B.C, Vlasta, Jakob’s mother, wanted to make the trip out to Kelowna to watch her son.
Jack Stukel, her husband, had different ideas.
“I didn’t want to [make the trip out to watch the game],” Jack explained. “[It was] because of the weather.”
However, both ended up attending the game, but it took some convincing from Vlasta. And it was well worth it.
The Giants lost 5-2 to the host Rockets, but Jakob finished with a goal.
“Scoring the goal was a nice way to end the season for him,” Jack said. “I’m very glad I changed my mind, because it was a great day for us.”
Jakob ended his season with the Giants with four points, including two goals.
“I had a great time and learned a lot from the coaches,” he said at the time. “I’m fortunate for the opportunity to play with some great players. We weren’t able to make the playoffs, but I hope to improve in the off-season and get stronger with training and come back to the team and have a good start with them next season.”
That would have to wait.
Like most athletes, Jakob wanted to improve elements of his game during the off-season to push for a roster spot on the Giants come time for training camp. One of the ways he opted to use was to play football.
It didn’t go the way he had hoped.
“I was playing the quarterback position,” Jakob said. I was doing some training and I wanted to improve my speed and explosiveness. Then all of the sudden I was running and I slanted and fell. I [wasn’t really pushed or tackled, I just fell].”
Something was wrong. He was hurt.
“When I got up,” Jakob explained, “I could feel my knee giving way.”
Both parents were working at their respective jobs, so he opted to phone his father. Jakob needed medical attention.
“I remember that phone call very well,” Jack said. “It was almost like an ‘I can’t believe this is happening’ kind of situation. When I went to pick him up to go to the hospital, I was hoping it wasn’t anything too serious.”
And it wasn’t.
At least, that was what was originally stated by specialists and doctors from the hospital. According to them, it was just a ‘minor sprain.’
But, it was still apparent that there was something wrong with Jakob’s knee.
“We went on our way [once we saw the doctors at the hospital],” Jack explained. “But after a day or two, the problem continued, and whenever Jakob went up and down the stairs, his knee kept buckling on him. I mean, that is not normal.”
Enough was enough.
This time, Jakob and his family decided to meet with the Giants’ medical staff.
“[Back at the hospital], they had X-rays done,” Jack stated. “But X-rays [apparently] don’t show ligament tears. So we decided to contact the Giants and after meeting with the doctors and the physiotherapist, they knew that Jakob had a serious problem.”
It was revealed that Jakob had a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
“I could have just done rehab and be back in a few weeks,” Jakob said. “But if I did that, I would risk injuring it more in the future. So we decided to do a full surgery.”
He was going to be out of action for at least six to eight months.
“I was devastated,” Jakob confessed. “I knew I was not only going to miss most of the Giants’ season, but also a chance to play in the [ 2014 World U17 Hockey Challenge], which happens at the end of December, as well.”
But he isn’t the only one feeling devastated.
“It has always been about hockey for Jakob,” Jack said. “Now that he suffered the injury, that’s pretty much no hockey for us all [season]. I mean, Jakob [just turned] 16-years-old, so I don’t think he understands what an injury like this can do to his future. This [is the stage] where it’s time to see if Jakob has a future in hockey.”
Just because of the injury, that doesn’t mean Jack gets out of his routine of being a hockey parent.
“I have to make sure to drive him out to the [Pacific Coliseum] for all the home games,” Jack said. “I stay at the rink to watch the games because I’m not going to [drive home and drive back]. And now that he has the injury, I have to take him to physio appointments, so things are really hectic. But, we want to make sure he stays connected with the team and continues down this path.”
While times are tough for Jakob dealing with the injury and Jack having to deal with the stresses of being a hockey parent, it hasn’t been the easiest time for Vlasta, either.
“She doesn’t express it as much,” Jack said. “But she does show the stress of it all. Especially for her, she’s always trying to make sure he is well fed and gets the right sleep. In that sense, it probably impacts her more than it does me because she handles the cooking.”
But the Stukels have a reason to smile.
Although there is no confirmation of when Jakob will return to the Giants’ lineup, he is likely going to begin skating in January, which can only come as good news for the team and the family, after the Stukels’ concerns of Jakob potentially missing the entire season.
But is he worried about not coming back as the same player following the injury?
“No, I’m not,” he said. “I’m really optimistic, so I don’t have any concerns about me not being the same player or being slow. I’m training really hard, so when I am ready to play I’m just going to go out there and play my game and play with no fear.”
Jakob’s parents may be going through some hardships with his injury, but it is only a matter of time until Jakob wears his Number 11 sweater and they have the opportunity to cheer him on every time he steps on the ice at the Pacific Coliseum.