It is fair to say that Tucker Tynan and the Niagara IceDogs have a special relationship, tested in the crucible of shared adversity.
Although, Tynan spent most of last season sidelined by a serious injury that occurred on December 12th, when he suffered a thigh laceration after contacting a skate blade. The layout of the IceDogs’ dressing room, however, never betrayed his absence. Equipment manager, Nick Hornby, always kept Tynan’s stall dressed with his #1 hockey sweater. No other player occupied the spot all season long. Instead, the dressing station served as a reminder that Tucker was with the team in spirit, even as he recovered in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois.
“That game was for him”
Just one week after the incident, Tucker was stable and at home, while the IceDogs were back in action against the Kingston Frontenacs. After claiming an impressive 11-3 victory, the team paid tribute to Tynan by skating to centre-ice, raising his jersey in the air, and dedicating the game to their injured goaltender.
The gesture provided a vital spark for the 18-year-old.
“It felt like such a different atmosphere, obviously, not being able to be in the net, but it was definitely amazing to see all the support. It motivated me to work harder, to be able to get the chance to be back in action,” Tynan reflected.
The margin of victory was also evidence of the team’s motivation to put forward their very best effort.
“Before the game, we had one goal in mind and that was to win for Tucker.” Alternate Captain Oliver Castleman said. “It was a special night. When we brought out his jersey I had goosebumps. I have never felt so proud. I knew he was watching, that made it even more special.”
“It was an emotional time,” defenceman Adrien Beraldo said. “We came out flying, playing for Tucker, and to bring the jersey on the ice after the game was a great feeling. It really boosted the morale of everyone in the room. That game was for him.”
When the injury occurred, Beraldo assisted Athletic Therapist, Chris Trivieri, Strength Coach, Nick Tamburri, and Nick Hornby in saving Tynan’s life. The cool-headed 19-year-old removed Tynan’s equipment giving Trivieri and Tamburri the room they needed to work, and critically slow the bleeding. London Knights Trainer, Doug Stacey, also worked quickly to help save the then 17-year old goaltender.
“He wants to get better, he wants to play hockey again.”
In Chicago, a grueling rehabilitation to repair a torn quad muscle in Tynan’s right leg was taking form under the watchful eye of Dr. Bradley J. Dunlap, M.D. at North Shore Medical, the same facility the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks use. His recovery has been so dramatic that the 6-foot netminder is back on the ice skating and taking shots.
“The Blackhawks have set us up for the best route to success,” IceDogs’ Athletic Therapist Chris Trivieri said. “Dr. Dunlap has him at such a good pace.”
“He has a good work ethic, I’m not worried about him not doing his home program. He wants to get better, he wants to play hockey again.”
In particular, Tynan has been using the inspiration of a two-time Stanley Cup Champion to help strengthen his lower body, and quad muscles.
“Before the injury, we’d finish workouts at 10:00 a.m and he’d still be in the gym until 2:00 p.m doing split squats,” Trivieri recalled. “He has his own mindset. He’s a big Chicago guy, and he saw Corey Crawford doing it so he does it all the time.”
“His mental toughness is really amazing, seeing him in the gym consistently working out. We’d basically have to kick him out, he was in there all day working on things trying to get better.” IceDogs’ goaltending coach Bob Janosz added. “If anyone is going to rebound from this it’s going to be Tucker. He’s putting in the work like before. I know how hungry he is. He wants to be a difference-maker both on, and off the ice.”
In his first Ontario Hockey League season, Tynan recorded an 11-8-3-1 record, along with a 3.80 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage. Those stats placed him fifth and second respectively among qualified rookie netminders.
“There was a strong belief that we were all in it TOGETHER”
In the hours that following the injury, Tynan needed a 5-unit blood transfusion. IceDogs’ fans, teammates, and the coaching staff have paid further tribute to their injured teammate by donating blood to assist others needing transfusions. The organization and the OHL have turned a potential tragedy into inspiration to reach out and help others. Head Coach Billy Burke, who has seen a lot in his hockey career, was moved by the way the team and community gathered around Tucker, and each other, in what turned out to be a challenging season.
“Through the quick thinking and actions of our training staff, we saved a young man’s life. It also raised the bar for safety across the OHL. We talk about being a family here all the time, but when you see how much these teammates love each other and how they came together to support each other and Tucker’s family. It’s not just talk and cliche, it’s real. The blood drive is a great example. No one forced the players to show up but they all did, even the new players who hadn’t met Tucker. It was important to everyone and you could feel it. Tucker’s injury put everything into perspective for us.”
“Even as the losses piled up in the second half of the season, the guys stuck together and never wavered. There was a strong belief that we were all in it TOGETHER. It would have been easy for guys to get negative and selfish but that never happened. From the captain right down the roster. We went through a life or death situation together and it changes your outlook. Winning hockey games is not as important as the safety and well being of your teammates and that was a constant feeling in the dressing room after the injury.”
For their part, IceDogs’ alumni Akil Thomas, and Elijah Roberts have continued to stay in contact with Tynan as some of his most supportive well-wishers.
“I talk to him every few weeks,” Thomas said. “I’m definitely not worried about him too much. I think he’s going to come back strong, and a lot better than everyone expects.”
“I think from knowing Tucker he’s going to be back, it’s just a matter of when,” Roberts said.”I know being out for this long is hard, but he’s staying positive, and doing his training. He’ll back better than ever.”
“He is closer than ever to being back”
In the face of adversity, the personable and familial approach of General Manager, and Team Governor, Joey Burke has been a welcomed consistent. He has continued to convey positive messages daily, strengthening a close bond the pair already have.
“Of course not being able to be with the team and in the room is challenging for any athlete, so myself and the staff have tried to consistently keep in touch, keep him a part of everything. Overall, we have taken the approach that we expect him to back and are treating the relationship as normal as such. I certainly pride myself on having a great relationship with all the guys, and of that has continued with Tucker.”
There is, of course, going to be an adjustment period when Tynan does return to Niagara for training camp. There comes immense pressure with being a number one goaltender, but a positive to having a larger roster of goaltenders is the ability to rotate. Janosz reiterated the importance of not rushing Tynan into too many games to start, by saying “maybe Tucker starts off playing one every few games. We can see how he’s feeling and go from there.”
Although a major benefit of a 7-8 month off-season this year is giving Tynan more time to recover, and to train. Trivieri said it best when he stated “no one has benefitted more from this extended offseason than Tucker Tynan.”
Burke was quick to credit Tynan for his exceptional drive and mindset in helping him attack his rehab.
“I honestly believe with an injury as significant as this was, not a lot of players are able to recover, both mentally and physically, like Tucker has. With that kind of a shocking incident, to be as calm as he was that night is remarkable, and to have worked as hard and reacted as positively as he has is very rare.
“The important thing that we try to relay to him as time passes is that the worst is behind him. He is closer than ever to being back, and as an organization, we cannot wait to have him back in Niagara and on the ice.”
It goes without saying that Tucker Tynan is well on the road to a complete recovery.
He is working at his recovery with an eye on rejoining the team, when play resumes in December.
His message to IceDogs’ fans is unequivocally clear:
“I’ll definitely be back.”