The high school hockey community continues to rally around a North Quincy senior who suffered a severe injury during a game last week.
Connor Kulig, a senior captain for the Red Raiders, was diagnosed with a fractured cervical vertebrae and underwent surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital. According to North Quincy boys’ coach Matt Gibbons, Kulig continues to make progress in his recovery and was transferred out of the intensive care unit Tuesday.
“I saw him Friday, and a couple of the guys went in and saw him Saturday,” Gibbons said. “He sent me a text [Tuesday] from his number – I don’t know if he wrote it or someone did it for him, but he said, ‘I stood up today for the first time,’ and he had video of him standing up.”
Gibbons said Kulig gradually had been regaining movement in his feet and legs following the surgery. Kulig was unable to move his legs immediately following the injury, which happened directly in front of the North Quincy bench during a game against Patriot League rival Scituate at Hobomock Arena in Pembroke.
“It was kind of the end of a shift for him, I don’t know if he was looking to dump the puck, but he got boarded basically,” Gibbons said. “I didn’t see it because of where it was.”
Gibbons added he was told by one of the game officials that “it wasn’t malicious, it was a hockey hit,” but that because of the distance from the boards Kulig hit the boards awkwardly with his head and neck.
“For the kids [on the bench] to see all of it unfolding, and hearing everything they’re saying, made it a little bit worse,” Gibbons said. “I was just hoping it was a stinger and he would get right back up.”
Kulig’s injury has generated an outpouring of support. Duxbury boys’ hockey coach John Blake contacted Gibbons the next day and said the Patriot League schools were creating “NQ 16” helmet stickers that each team will wear for the rest of the season. Each league school’s booster club was asked to contribute $100 to the Kulig family.
“[Everyone was] on board,” Blake said.
As of Tuesday night, a fund-raising campaign on Facebook already had raised almost $37,000, with a goal of $50,000.
Gibbons said he has been particularly touched by the number of well-wishes Kulig and the team have received on Twitter.
Among those who have reached out: Bruins forward Charlie Coyle, a former star at Weymouth High, who wrote, “When adversity strikes, the hockey community rallies together. Connor Kulig — keep that positive mind-set and remain strong as you are. We are all with you in this!”
Said Gibbons: “It is overwhelming, it is humbling . . . This is why hockey is great.”
North Quincy practiced Monday for the first time since the injury. While the Red Raiders were not on the ice Tuesday at Quincy Youth Arena, rival Quincy held a “red and black” scrimmage bearing the Red Raiders’ colors, and posed on the ice following practice with a Quincy No. 16 jersey in Kulig’s honor.
Quincy coach Ted Walsh said it was the correct way to show support for a student-athlete who grew up skating on the same teams as many of his players.
“Both programs only become rivals when they reach high school, however these boys have played [many] years on the same youth teams and have carved out lifelong friendships,” Walsh said, “and they continue those friendships for all but two days of the hockey season.
“At the end of the day they are all Quincy boys and we fully support and pray for Connor and wish him a full and speedy recovery. We all look forward to the day when Connor walks through those QYA doors, and there won’t be a dry eye in the house.”
Gibbons said he is unsure how things will go as the team gets back to a semblance of a regular routine. Last Saturday’s game against Duxbury was postponed, and the Red Raiders aren’t scheduled to play again until Saturday against Marshfield.
“When I went in Friday Connor [asked], ‘Why aren’t we playing tomorrow?’ ’’ Gibbons said. “He said on Friday, ‘If this was going to happen to anyone on the team, I’m glad it was me.’ That’s the kind of kid he is. It’s powerful stuff.”
Jim Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.