WEST HAVEN >> A captain and a top defenseman for a state championship contender.
That’s the way Anthony Iovene’s final season as a Notre Dame-West Haven hockey player was supposed to look.
Instead, he won’t get a chance to lace up his skates and take the ice for the Green Knights as a senior. His high school career was cut short, abruptly and tragically.
Iovene was playing in a fall league game at the Sono Ice House in Norwalk back in September. It was his second shift. He skated toward an opponent who had the puck near mid ice. Iovene then tripped over a teammate’s stick, fell forward and hit his head on the opponent’s knee. It was a play, Iovene says, that was pretty common.
The result, however, was not.
He fell to the ice and couldn’t get up. He tried to push up with his arms, but couldn’t feel anything. The impact compressed his spine and broke the fifth cervical vertebrae in his neck. He was temporary paralyzed at the time of the injury.
“When I tried to get back up, that’s when I started freaking out,” Iovene said. “I couldn’t move. It’s weird because you never think anything like that would happen. You see that play happen all the time.”
He described the feeling as extreme pins and needles from his hands to his upper arm. Iovene was eventually helped off the ice, taken by ambulance to Norwalk Hospital and later transported to Yale-New Haven Hospital. He had surgery two days later, as a bone from his hip was fused to repair the broken one in his neck.
His coordination is still somewhat off because of the shock to his nervous system. That will return to normal though. He regained full function of his hands and arms after surgery. He’s also walking regularly and just started driving again.
But hockey is missing, and that’s the toughest part.
Like any high school athlete, Iovene, who is from Cheshire, was eagerly waiting for his senior season. Notre Dame was coming off its second straight trip to a state final and Iovene was slated to be an assistant captain. When doctors told him he wasn’t going to be able to play this season, needless to say it was devastating. There was shock, followed by denial.
“You never know what could happen,” Iovene said. “Hockey has been my life since I was 3. For me to take all these games and practices and skating for granted growing up, it really shows me how special this all is.”
The Green Knights are missing a talented, physical defenseman along with a leader.
“That’s a big loss for us,” said teammate Matt Dumas, who was also playing in the game when Iovene was injured. “He’s still part of the team, he’s still helping us. We want to go out there and win this season for him.”
While he won’t take the ice, Iovene continues to have a role for the Green Knights. He remains a vocal leader, motivator and vows he will do anything he can to help his team. The Green Knights elevated Iovene from assistant captain to captain and honored him before the season opener.
He hasn’t missed a practice or game and even attends team weight-lifting sessions. Iovene hopes to be cleared to play club hockey in college.
“Inspirational?” Notre Dame coach Tim Belcher asks rhetorically. “Just the way he’s bounced back and the leadership we’re still getting from him. I think every time he walks into the rink he’s an inspiration to us.”