Morning Star Staff
A fraction lower and Robbie Short’s pro hockey career would likely be over.
Four games into his second season in the Southern Professional Hockey League, the former Vernon Viper took a skate in the face in an accidental collision with Louisiana Ice Gators teammate Clark Byczynski during an Oct. 28 game against the Augusta Riverhawks. The resulting gash bisected his eyebrow and eyelid, requiring 52 stitches.
“He (Byczynski) tried to make a move to his right… and he took a knee-on-knee and his leg spun around… and came right up and cut me across the eye,” said Short, 22. “When I closed my eyelid I could see out my eyebrow. It was as close as I could get it to my eyeball.”
Worried that his parents, John and Susan, might be watching the game back home in Lavington, Short called to assure them he would be OK.
“I called them right after. I figured they’d be watching and I was bleeding on the ice, a lot. I myself didn’t know how bad it was until I got to hospital.
“It healed up pretty good. I actually got lucky I did it in Augusta, Georgia because they’ve got a really good facial plastic surgery unit there. It was five minutes away from the rink and they got me in and got me a good plastic surgeon. They sewed it up and it’s all straight, but I’ve got a huge scar across my eye. I’m getting a lot uglier down there.”
Despite his brush with danger, Short missed just two games, returning two weeks later, albeit wearing a full face shield.
Near-blinding experience aside, Short is loving his time in the south, on and off the ice. On it, the athletic 6-foot, 200-pounder has nine goals, eight assists and 18 penalty minutes in 17 games with the Lafayette-based Gators, who are in fourth place at 10-7-2 in the nine-team SPHL loop.
“It’s been up and down because we probably have the youngest team. We could be really good, it’s just kind of a learning curve for the rookies,” said Short. “It’s (SPHL) been a lot stronger this year. There are some teams dropping out of the Central and East Coast that are joining this league.
“It’s pretty much the style of the B.C. Hockey League. It is mostly a Canadian league. There are a few Swedish kids, but most have played in the BCHL or AJHL, so it’s kind of the same style.”
Among his teammates are August Aiken, a former Salmon Arm SilverBack, and David Simoes, who won the 2005 RBC Cup with Kyle Turris and the Burnaby Express.
“They used to call Vernon the evil empire,” grinned Short, unaware of the Vipers’ dubious nickname among the rest of the BCHL. “We got a good chuckle out of that.”
Short was called up to the Central Hockey League’s Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees (coached by ex-NHLer Terry Ruskowski) of Hidalgo, Tex. on Dec. 21. He registered five shots and was a minus-1 in a 6-1 loss to Allen Americans, also of Texas and was plus-1 with two shots in a 7-3 loss to the Americans Dec. 23.
Guiding the Ice Gators is former NHLer Kevin (Killer) Kaminski, a scrappy centreman who posted 13 points and 528 penalty minutes in 139 career NHL games.
“He’s pretty intense, but he’s a real good coach. He knows what he’s talking about,” said Short.
Kaminski sees potential in Short for a pro career and is helping him round out his game.
“He’s a great kid on and off the ice. He’s a quiet leader with a great work ethic,” said Kaminski, who was happy to see him get called up.
And just like he did with the Vipers, Short is still making his trademark bursts up the wing and torching goalies with his quick release.
“When he hits the blueline, I’m trying to teach him to see what his options are coming in late,” said Kaminski. “Whether it’s the guy driving up centre or going wide, or even the defencemen coming in on the play.”
Away from the ice, Short pretty much lives the college campus life as the Ice Gators have taken up residence at University of Louisiana-Lafayette.
“We’re done practice at 11 a.m. and we’ve got the rest of the day to do what we want,” said Short, who has been to a few tailgate parties for college football games.
“I get to travel around and see different places and just keep playing. Obviously I’d like to move up, but it’s the experience that I’m after.”
He added Louisiana’s college gridiron teams – LSU Tigers and Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns – aren’t helping hockey’s exposure in the south. Louisiana-Lafayette recently rallied to upend San Diego State 32-30 in the New Orleans Bowl, and LSU is preparing to battle Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game, Jan. 9 at the Superdome.
“People are pretty crazy about football right now and not really thinking about hockey,” said Short. “It’s hit and miss with the football season. Obviously, this year is worse because you’ve got LSU playing in the BCS championship game in New Orleans.
“But it’s not too bad here. They had the East Coast team here for a lot of years and they did real well. They were packing their rink, which was about 12,000 (fans).”
Short came to Lafayette in February last season after he was dealt from the SPHL Pensacola Ice Flyers. He started that year in the CHL’s Texas Brahmas.
“Moving from Vernon to Dallas is quite the culture shock. Coming down south, it’s such a different world down here. To see the history and culture down here is a lot of fun.”
Since then, he has settled in and has even tried some of the local delicacies – gumbo, crawfish and even alligator.
“The gator is really good. It tastes just like chicken,” laughed Short. “They cook it any way they can. They cook anything any way they can down here. Mostly barbecued or roasted though.”