Photo via Lakeland Connect
“One of the worst days of my life.”
That’s how Kash Rasmussen described the moment in August 2018 when he found out his sophomore junior hockey season had come to an end.
Rasmussen came into the AJHL as a 16-year-old. He was coming off an excellent Midget season with Edge School, where he led the team with 25 goals and 53 points. Junior A teams were hunting for his signature that offseason, but he ultimately opted to stay close to home.
The Cochrane native initially signed with the Calgary Canucks out of their 2017 spring camp. He played throughout the preseason with the Canucks and dressed in a single regular-season game. Shortly after, Calgary made a coaching change and cut Rasmussen.
Now looking for a new home, Rasmussen reconnected with his old spring hockey coach Rick Swan, who was behind the bench of the Bonnyville Pontiacs. Swan recently posted a photo about it on Twitter following the Pontiacs acquisition of Bruce MacGregor, a fellow teammate of Rasmussen’s from Swan’s spring team.
Rasmussen had a strong rookie season in Bonnyville. He dressed in 35 games, scoring five goals and 11 points. He played in three playoff games and had a single goal against Fort McMurray in the first round.
It was the following season when disaster struck for the young Bonnyville forward.
The ice at the RJ Lalonde Arena wasn’t ready to go when training camp began, so the team had to travel 50 minutes on a bus to Frog Lake for the majority of their preseason.
“We were running a one on one drill down the wall,” said Rasmussen when recalling the event. “I was going down the wall full speed when the defenceman gapped up against me. As he pushed against my hip, my right skate stayed on the ice, and my body (went) one way and my leg the other.”
Rasmussen allowed himself to rest for a week and attempted to skate again. Skating proved to be too much for the then-17-year-old who says now his knee was “floppy”.
“It didn’t feel right at all,” said Rasmussen. “I got an MRI in Edmonton, and the (doctors) broke the news to me.”
The collision with his teammate resulted in a torn ACL and a partial tear in the meniscus. Rasmussen was sidelined for the entire 2017-18 season and headed down a long road to recovery.
Rasmussen and his family immediately looked into surgery to find the fastest way for him to get back on to the ice. Canada’s public system proved to not be an option due to extensive wait times, which led them to a private facility in Vancouver.
On November 8, 2018, less than three months after the injury occurred, Rasmussen was in Vancouver and underwent successful knee surgery.
“[I] got home, and for the first two or three weeks, I couldn’t really walk or do much,” Rasmussen said. “You’re just bedridden the whole time. After that, the rehab process starts, and it’s a long process.”
That rehab process took around eight months and included a variety of elements.
He started at a rehabilitation centre in Calgary called Group 23, which is located at Canadian Olympic Park. Group 23 has worked with plenty of hockey teams over the years including the Calgary Flames, the Canadian Olympic men and women’s hockey teams, and Rasmussen’s former team – the Calgary Canucks.
“It’s world class,” said Rasmussen. “My physiotherapist Jen got me hooked up right away. They have anti-gravity treadmills, underwater treadmills, everything you can imagine for rehab. I think that actually helped me a lot. When you know you’re getting better, it takes your mind off it (rather than) dwelling on missing the game and stuff like that.”
Throughout the rehab process, an athlete needs to work on strengthening their injury but also their mind. It can be daunting not knowing how long they’re going to be on the sidelines or if they’ll even make it back at all. It’s a factor that might not come to mind when thinking of an ACL injury.
Rasmussen sought help and didn’t need to look too far. He began working with Matt Brown, a mental health coach at Edge School.
His family’s support was crucial during this period as well as from the Pontiacs, who stuck by him then and still do to this day.
“Matt encouraged me and told me this was normal,” said Rasmussen when discussing his mental health. “That’s half the battle. It’s not just (about) physically getting better, but staying mentally strong.”
“My family was super supportive,” continued Rasmussen. “(They were) always there for me, especially in the first few weeks at home. They had to make my food (because)I couldn’t get out of bed. All this work they had to do (for me), and I am extremely thankful for them.”
The Pontiacs also played a big role in the process, but, Rasmussen wasn’t able to visit Bonnyville during his rehab. Instead, he reunited with his teammates on their Southern Alberta road trip. That season the Pontiacs stayed in Canmore for a week straight, which gave Rasmussen plenty of time to catch up with his teammates.
“I’ll never forget that trip,” said Rasmussen. “It was almost like a house with five guys to a room. It was quite the time. I went on the bus with them to every game and tried to be there for them. The coaching staff were really supportive and patient with me, and I’m grateful for them.”
Bonnyville finished the regular season with a record of 41-11-9, placing it second in the North Division. The 41 wins set a franchise record.
However, after such a successful regular season disappointment, soon followed. Their season ended in the second round after a 4-0 sweep by the Spruce Grove Saints.
The end of the season also meant Rasmussen was closer to stepping back on to the ice at RJ Lalonde Arena.
After eight long months of rehab, the unthinkable happened. Rasmussen returned to Bonnyville ahead of the 2019-20 season and it proved to be a successful third year for him.
Rasmussen only missed one game for the Pontiacs and scored a career high 11 goals and 28 points. He was also named the 2019-20 playoff MVP after scoring two goals and four points in a first round series against Drayton Valley.
“I have to say that halfway through the year, I felt like I wasn’t 100 per cent,” stated Rasmussen. “After that half a year, I felt like I could start contributing the way I used to.”
“The guys were good with welcoming (me) back into the team. It’s a great atmosphere here, and the culture is great in Bonnyville, so it was easy.”
Today, Rasmussen and the Pontiacs are eagerly awaiting puck drop after the AJHL recently announced its return to play. He’s now a fourth year player and is proving to be one of the team’s top forwards.
Along with that, his hard work over the years was rewarded by the coaching staff as he was named an alternate captain.
“Personally for me this year, my goal (is) to be a leader on this team,” said Rasmussen. “I’ve seen it done by other guys and (learned)what it’s like to play in the league. I think if you’re working hard out there and staying true to your game (it) will come.”
“These three months will be great for us,” continued Rasmussen. “We’ve got a couple of new guys coming in, and the guys that are back, they’re excited. It will be fun.”