The Portage Terriers playoff opener was electrifying.
The crowd at Stride Place couldn't have been happier to see their Dogs' back in the playoffs after missing the dance in 2021-22 but it became a memorable one for the wrong reasons. While the Terriers secured a double-overtime victory, forward Gavin Klaassen wasn't there to see it.
Halfway through the second period, Klaassen rushed over to the boards to try and help the Terriers come away with the puck in a jam along the boards. Niverville Nighthawks forward Bryce Warkentine followed Klaassen to the boards with speed and rammed him into the boards, hitting him right in the numbers.
Warkentine was suspended for the rest of the playoffs for the hit from behind, and Klaassen was ultimately taken to the hospital on a stretcher. The Terrier forward talks about the first things he remembers after the hit.
"Seconds before the hit, the hit, and everything until I was in the ambulance, I don't remember. I remember a little bit in the ambulance, just groggy, and my head was hurting," Klaassen explains. "I remember getting to the hospital and getting stitched up. Miraculously, I left the hospital with not too many symptoms when it comes to concussion protocol. So, I went back to the hotel with my parents and stayed with them for the night, and I actually was doing good."
While Klaassen only came away with a nasty cut, the scene on the ice made Terrier fans assume it was much worse. The game was stopped for nearly 30 minutes before the team trainers and paramedics were able to get Klaassen off the ice on a stretcher.
The Portage Terriers appreciate the concern of our fans regarding the injury last night to forward Gavin Klaassen. He was taken to the hospital and has since been released. He is expected to make a full recovery from his injuries. Thank you for your support.— Portage Terriers (@PortageTerriers) March 25, 2023
The forward is from Ypsilanti, Michigan and says it was a bitter-sweet situation as his family came to see him play for the first time in quite a while.
"It was actually funny because it was the first time my parents came to Canada since COVID. It was their first time coming to Portage to watch me," Klaassen continues. "It's unfortunate but I'd rather them have been there and been around me for support than them be at home and not know what happened. I'm grateful for that."
The 20-year-old says he sat in the stands for Game 2 in Niverville, and even in the opponent's arena, the support from fans was incredible.
"I wasn't expecting it at all. There were probably more than 15 fans who came up to me and asked me how I was doing, and they were thankful when I said that I was doing well. It was super good to feel that people were caring about me. The support was amazing."
Klaassen says the injury didn't set him back too drastically. The cut swelled up to the point where it hampered Klaassen's eyesight for a little under a week but after that, he was ready to get back on the ice.
His first game back was Game 1 of the second round against the Virden Oil Capitals. Klaassen didn't waste much time before he made an impact, scoring the first goal of the series.
"We had a good start to the game. I was rolling and got a super lucky bounce that went to my stick. If I missed it, I don't even know what I would've done but I was just happy it went in," Klaassen explains. "Words can't describe it. It just felt like a surreal moment. It was more than hockey in that moment."
Klaassen ended up picking up an assist on a Matt McLeod goal later in the game, and this time, he was able to celebrate with the team after the double-overtime win. He says that goal and that game will stick with him forever.
"All the boys were super pumped for me. I remember, after scoring, I looked out into the crowd, and everyone was super hyped. I just felt like it was louder than normal. It was memorable for sure."
While Klaassen and the Terriers had a tough end to the playoffs, they still believe they have what it takes to win the Centennial Cup.
"It was an unfortunate end to our playoff run. Our team had a sickness going around in that second round, and I don't want to make that the blame but we should've won the league," says Klaassen. "I say, look forward to the Centennial because, I think, we're the favourites this year."