Community rallies around player with spinal cord injury

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Macomb Township – The one thing Anthony Mastronardi remembers was thinking, even in those matter of seconds, “This could be bad.”

The junior from Macomb Dakota was racing after a loose puck with an opponent, and everything that go could go wrong in that instant did.

Yes. It turned out to be bad.

“Our legs, our sticks, all got tangled and I wound up going into the boards,” said Mastronardi, 17, remembering the game against Port Huron Northern Dec. 3. “I went head-first.”

Strange, how everything happened so fast, just in a matter of moments, but yet Mastronardi remembers everything also happening in slow motion.

“I heard the ‘boom,’” said Mastronardi of his impact into the boards.

Moments later, Mastronardi remembers laying on the ice, waiting, coming-to, and …

“I couldn’t move anything,” Mastronardi said.

Four months later, Mastronardi has returned home after going through grueling rehabilitation at the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan (RIM).

Mastronardi injured his spinal cord in that collision. He’s regaining strength in his arms but the wrists and fingers are still weak. He’s not walking.

He’s never, ever asked, "Why me?"

“Not once,” said his mother, Sarahanne Mastronardi, who along with husband Al, were constantly at Anthony’s bedside at RIM all four months. “Not one time. I’ve been in awe of him. He gets up every day. He has a plan of what he wants and needs to do, and gets working.

“His spirits through all of this, his spirits have been remarkable.”

The attitude is one major thing that strikes visitors about Mastronardi. His optimism, courage and upbeat personality are contagious.

“There’s no point being miserable, that’s no way to live life every day,” Mastronardi said. “I’m going to stay positive, work hard every day, and keep looking forward.”

The community has opened its arms to the Mastronardi family since that night in December.

Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser and Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Steven Oleksy (Macomb L’Anse Creuse North) have visited Mastronardi at RIM.

Mastronardi’s Dakota teammates — including younger brother Jack — have been constant visitors during the hockey season, and the team’s Christmas party was moved to Mastronardi’s hospital room.

“It’s always fun to see those guys,” Mastronardi said.

Being back home around his three younger siblings has brought a ton smiles, too.

Sunday, the community comes together again at 6 p.m. at Fraser Hockeyland for a benefit game pitting the Red Wings’ alumni against senior hockey players from area high schools.

Mastronardi is scheduled to drop the puck.

The game’s a fundraiser to help the family defray some of the costs involved, including a new chair for Mastronardi, transportation, and therapy that isn’t covered by insurance.

Sarahanne Mastronardi gets emotional when talking about the support the family has received.

“It’s been humbling,” Sarahanne said. “I don’t know where we’d be … The staff at RIM who were around him, they were so incredible.

“Spiritually, emotionally, like I said, it’s been humbling.”

Anthony Mastronardi, too, has been overwhelmed by the level of support, people caring about him, and how he’s doing.

But Mastronardi wants to make sure everyone knows he’s determined. He’s determined to defeat this current situation, to make this a temporary hurdle.

The day Mastronardi returned from RIM, he wrote something on a sheet of paper and put it on his bedroom wall.

He looks at it every day.

“It says, ‘I will walk,’” Mastronardi said. “I look at it every day. I know I will.

“I know I will.”

Benefit hockey game

When: 6 p.m. Sunday

Where: Fraser Hockeyland, 34400 Utica Road, Fraser.

Donation: $10 at the gate, or donate to: with Anthony Mastronardi’s name in “notes” or by making a check payable to Anthony Mastronardi.