It might look a small step, but it’s a significant one as far as Ben Fanelli is concerned.
The 17-year-old defenceman for the Kitchener Rangers, who was critically injured after a hit from behind last year, will finally be taking part in full practice, 390 days after the incident that shook the hockey community.
“It’s definitely a positive step in his recovery and I hope he does well with it,” said Rangers head coach and GM Steve Spott on Wednesday.
According to Spott, Fanelli will be on the ice Wednesday and Thursday with the team, though he noted his planned drills for those days wouldn’t include that much contact.
Fanelli received the green light for full contact from his parents and he is continuing to be supervised by renowned concussion specialists Dr. Karen Johnston and Dr. Charles Tator. Neither doctor has given Fanelli full medical clearance, though he has passed the baseline concussion test as well as a battery of other tests.
"For both our organization and Ben's family, the focus has been on Ben's recovery and will remain unchanged as Ben makes another positive step forward. We will continue to provide updates for our fans and media when they happen and continue to refrain from making specific comments on his progress," said Rangers C.O.O. Steve Bienkowski in a statement.
A request to interview Fanelli after practice was denied by the Rangers.
There no timeline for the Oakville, Ont., native to return to game play, but he has been skating with the team since September.
Fanelli has remained close to the Rangers since recovering from a fractured skull and facial fractures which occurred after being hit from behind by Erie Otters forward Mike Liambas in a game on Oct. 30, 2009. Fanelli’s head hit a metal stanchion holding the glass by the doors of the Zamboni entrance and he spent a week in a Hamilton, Ont., hospital after being airlifted from the game at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. Liambas, then 20, was suspended by the OHL for the rest of season, effectively ending his junior career since he was an overager.
Since the incident, Fanelli has been allowed to skate in practice, but not take full contact. Spott said that while this is still a big step for the teen’s progress, he’s not going to be facing the same intensity he would in a game.
“It’s contact in practice,” said Spott. “We’re not talking about live ammunition here.”
Sunaya Sapurji is the Jr. Hockey Editor at Yahoo! Sports. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org