A New Jersey prep hockey player remained in "critical" condition on Tuesday after breaking his neck during a game this past weekend, according to multiple reports.
Monroe (N.J.) High senior forward Michael Nichols fractured his C5 vertebra as the result of an untimely check and ensuing head-on collision with the boards during the second period of Saturday's game against Vernon (N.J.), MyCentralJersey.com reported.
“We were killing a penalty and he was skating in the offensive zone for a loose puck,” Monroe head coach Jerry Minter told MyCentralJersey.com. “He took a shot on the loose puck and was off balance. In the process of shooting the puck he was checked at the same time and that propelled him forward head first into the boards. It happened so fast.”
Nichols was airlifted to Morristown Medical Center, where he underwent surgery Sunday and reportedly remained in "critical" condition two days later. Meanwhile, Monroe's team website announced, "He is in good spirit, acting like the Mikey we all know and love."
While doctors told NBC New York it's "too early to tell if he will walk again," Nichols has since told his father Steven, "That ice that I couldn't get up from the other night, I'm going back to it, I'm going to stand up on it." A picture of the injured senior with those words inscribed on the side appears on the team website.
The outpouring of support, as always seems to be the case in hockey, has been tremendous. Hundreds from New Jersey and beyond have used the hashtag #PrayForMikey to express their thoughts and prayers. Former Rutgers University football star Eric LeGrand, paralyzed during a game in 2010, was scheduled to visit Nichols on Wednesday. And MonroeFalconsHockey.com features links to all fundraising efforts, including a GiveForward site that has raised nearly $25,000, in addition to t-shirts, helmet decals, a 50/50 fundraiser and a list of all events that will share proceeds with the family.
Likewise, the Monroe athletic staff hopes the Falcons star's injury will raise awareness about the devastating nature of such hits -- while of course pleading that blame be deflected from any Vernon player and asking for privacy on the Nichols family's behalf.
Nichols has played for Monroe's varsity squad since his freshman year, compiling 26 points (8 goals, 18 assists) in his first three varsity seasons. He reportedly had a goal and two assists in the game against Vernon before suffering the injury.
"He said, 'Dad, I can't feel anything,'" Steven Nichols told NBC New York from the hospital. "And I went onto the ice and he had great spirits. He said, 'I was the best player on the ice tonight,' and I said, 'You were, son.' Next thing I knew, we were here."
The Falcons, who have dedicated the rest of their season to Nichols, return to the ice for the first time since Saturday against Woodbridge (N.J.) on Wednesday. The injury already is the second of its kind this century for Monroe, according to MyCentralJersey.com, as the football team's Sean Denehy suffered a fractured vertebra in 2001.
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