Photo Courtesy of Robert Murray, Fort McMurray Today
Story Appeared online at www.starphoenix.com (May 2, 2015)
Riley Boomgaarden blocked a slapshot with his face, but he was back playing 10 days later.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound defenceman from Grande Prairie, Alta., is an inspirational leader on the Melfort Mustangs, whose hopes for a RBC Cup national appearance hinge solely on a victory Saturday against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons at the Western Canada Cup.
"As long as we play like I know we can, I like our chances," he said Friday from Fort McMurray, where the Mustangs were enjoying a day off.
"Fort Mac is definitely a beatable team. If we come ready to play and play our game, we shouldn't have any issues, as long as we're prepared for it."
Boomgaarden's jaw was broken in three places from a slapshot in the cheek during the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League's Canalta Cup final against the Notre Dame Hounds.
Although he missed the opening game of the Western Canada Cup, he's played the last three games and he's slowly getting used to breathing with his jaw wired somewhat shut.
"I was a little surprised playing a week-and-a-half later, but it's pretty good," he said. "It doesn't feel too bad. It's just for eating, and stuff, it sucks. (But) as long as you keep care of it, and take the proper precautions, you can play with it."
Boomgaarden has quickly grown tired of the liquefied diet, however. Milkshakes and smoothies are great up to a point.
"I'm pretty sick of them already," he said.
Boomgaarden, who is in his final year of junior eligibility, had surgery performed in Saskatoon two weeks ago Friday.
He now wears a special cage for extra jaw protection. The equipment came from the NHL's Dallas Stars through a connection with Mustang forward Andrew Durham, a Texas native.
"It protects my chin a little more," he explained. "It's a little tougher to breathe - I've got to breathe through my teeth, kind of thing - but managing the ice-time a little better has helped. Other than that, it's been al l right. It hasn't really slowed me down too much."
And it hasn't stopped him from lowering the boom on the opposition.
Known for his rocking bodychecks, Boomgaarden has also contributed on the scoresheet. He had three goals and three assists in 13 SJHL playoff games. During the regular season, he had two goals and eight assists in 45 games.
"He's one of our leaders," says Mustangs head coach Trevor Blevins. "He's dependable; he's big and strong. He's a defenceman that's tough to play against. He's got a lot of character and pain tolerance."