The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

February 10, 2010

Gusties men’s hockey team to honor paralyzed teammate

Loney injured in diving accident in July

ST PETER — Ryan Noonan has long been impressed with his good friend and teammate Brendan Loney but never more than this season.

The two were freshman-year roommates at Gustavus Adolphus College and teammates on the Gusties men’s JV team two years ago. They made the varsity last year.

As the Gusties made their surprising run to the NCAA Division III championship game, Noonan was a regular, playing in 30 games. Meanwhile, Loney was a “fifth liner,” who saw action just once.

“If I was in his position last year, I don’t think I could have had the positive attitude he had,” Noonan said. “It’s weird, in a way. He was still such a big part of that team, and he’s still a big part of this team.”

Loney is not playing hockey this season.

He can’t after suffering a spinal-cord injury diving into shallow water in July. Loney broke his C4 and C5 vertebrae, which left him paralyzed.

Initially, Loney needed to be on a respirator and had no feeling in his hands.

However, he began breathing on his own after about a month and after rehabilitating at a Colorado hospital that specializes in spinal-cord injuries, he can now use his hands to send text messages, type on a computer and maneuver his wheelchair.

“The progress he has made is remarkable,” Gusties coach Brett Petersen said.

On Friday, Loney, who now lives with his parents in Maple Grove, will make his first trip back to Gustavus.

The Gusties will honor him before Friday’s game against Hamline at the Don Roberts Ice Rink, and the college hopes to fill the stands to capacity with everyone dressed in black for a “Brendan Loney Blackout.”

“I think it’s going to be pretty special,” Petersen said. “My hope is he will feel the energy in the building and know how much he’s been missed, how much we’re thinking about him and how proud we are of him in this courageous battle.”

Petersen said it’s clear what Loney has meant to his family, friends and teammates. As of Wednesday, a CaringBridge Web site, which features a journal to track Loney’s progress, has had more than 170,300 visits.

“(Loney) is a terrific guy,” Petersen said. “We miss him in our locker room. He was a great leader in the locker room, which is unusual for someone who isn’t necessarily a regular player.”

Loney declined to be interviewed for this story. Both Petersen and Noonan suspect that he’ll be uncomfortable with all of the attention he’ll be getting on Friday.

“During Thanksgiving and Christmas, I got a chance to hang out with him,” Noonan said. “He’s still normal Brendan. He’s still the same kid. That’s unreal.”

On Friday, donations will be collected for the Brendan Loney Supplemental Needs Fund, and the Gusties hope to raise more than $1,000 to help their teammate.

The Gusties are counting on Loney to provide some of the inspiration he provided last season, too.

Friday’s game is important in terms of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference race. The Gusties are in first place in the conference but are just one point ahead of Hamline with four games to  play in the regular season. The two teams will conclude the weekend series Saturday in St. Paul.

“We’re going to hand out ‘Loney Hankies’ and have the blackout,” Noonan said. “It should be really good, especially with the MIAC on the line.”

Further contributions may be sent to the Brendan Loney Supplemental Needs Trust, 7555 Market Place Drive, Eden Prairie, MN 55344.

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