Seventeen-year-old Neil Doef is a small-town Canadian kid like so many other small-town kids across this country: chasing the hockey dream, day and night, evenings, weekends, and probably in his dreams as well. But like very few kids, he had talent to go along with that love of the game: he was the leading scorer on the Jr. A Smiths Falls Bears of the Central Canada Hockey League, and the rookie of the year in that league last season at age 16; he’d just agreed to a full hockey scholarship at Princeton University; and he was named to Team Canada East at the World Junior A Challenge in Kindersley, Sask.
Sadly, that’s where Doef’s life took a tragic turn on Sunday. Playing against the Swiss team, the left winger fell into the boards after colliding with a defenseman and suffered a terrible injury that not only threatens his hockey future, but his ability to live as he did before the game was played.
(At the request of Doef’s family, Hockey Canada president Tom Renney wouldn’t confirm Doef is dealing with major spinal trauma, but that was the suspicion. “(We) are not able to provide any further details and will when it is deemed most appropriate,” Renney said in a statement.)
Doef’s home of Smiths Falls (population 8,777) is admirably rallying around the injured youngster. An online fundraising campaign had raised more than $5,500 in two days, and the local Shopper’s Drug Mart has pledged $5,000 and will collect donations at its location. People interested in helping Doef can donate money at any Scotiabank branch under the account name “Doefstrong in trust”, or send an online money transfer to the address firstname.lastname@example.org.
The hockey world needs no more examples of how inherently dangerous the game can be. All we can do is do our best to help people who’ve been hurt. And although Doef faces a long and tough road, it’s heartening to see how quickly hockey’s family has stepped up to support him at such an awful time.