Emotions run deep as injured Army sargeant skates with Ice Dogs
April 1, 2012
John Plover talks with Fairbanks general manager Rob Proffitt during his time practicing with the Ice Dogs last week (photos by Eric Engman, News-Miner).
Johnny Plover didn’t hold back the tears Thursday morning when he saw his name above a dressing stall in the Fairbanks Ice Dogs locker room in the Big Dipper Ice Arena. The tears were accompanied by a smile brighter than the lights in the home rink of the North American Hockey League team. The Army sergeant was practicing Thursday morning with the Ice Dogs after having neck surgery three years ago from injuries sustained in a vehicle explosion during an ambush in Iraq.
The surgery in March 2009 at a hospital in Waco, Texas, included inserting a titanium plate and fusing two discs in the back of Plover’s neck. He was also told by doctors that because of the surgery, he would never again participate in competitive sports. Determination eventually defeated doubt, as Plover got involved in recreational hockey two years ago.
Thursday, he donned a gold Ice Dogs practice jersey to skate with the junior team before their last series of the regular season. Plover’s participation for about an hour was more than a goodwill gesture by the Ice Dogs. It also helped the right wing/center prepare for the USA Hockey Disabled Festival next month. The 37-year-old Philadelphia native is skating for the USA Warriors team in the tournament on April 13-15 in Dallas.
“This is the reason why they’re the class of the league, a class organization,” Plover, amid tears, said of the Ice Dogs. “I never got to sit in a locker room, and it made a lot of dreams come true for me. I can’t thank the guy (Ice Dogs general manager Rob Proffitt) enough, and even the boys (Ice Dogs) for not embarrassing me too good, and letting the old guy skate with them.”
Plover started playing hockey when he was 8 years old, and he continued to play through high school and for three seasons with the club program at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan led him to enlist in the Army eight years ago, and he now serves in the HHC 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Fort Wainwright.
“You’ve got some of the top junior players in the country, probably this half of the world,” Plover said of the Ice Dogs. “It’s humbling, and at the same time, there’s no better feeling in the world right now. It’s going to be a while before I wipe this grin off my face.”
The Ice Dogs appreciated Plover’s participation, too. “It’s honor for us. We respect everything they (military) do for us,” said forward JT Osborn.
Read the rest of Danny Martin's story in the News-Miner.