MEDICINE HAT, AB – “I feel like I'm getting my brother back.”
Slowly but surely, Carley Matechuk and her family are seeing progress after what she’s calling a nightmare 12 months.
On April 6, 2018, her brother Layne was a passenger on the Humboldt Broncos bus.
Layne has no memory of the fateful crash that killed 16 people and spent a month in a medically-induced coma, battling a significant brain injury as a result of the crash.
He was the second-last Bronco to be released from hospital, returning home to Colonsay, Saskatchewan last October almost seven months after the tragedy.
Over the last year Layne has had to learn how to walk and talk again, the latter of which Carley said is still a work in progress.
“His speech improves in the littlest of ways every single day,” said Carley. “He works so hard, his work ethic is something I wish I could say that I had.”
A year after the crash doctors are still removing glass from Layne’s body, a painful reminder of the tragedy that claimed coaches, teammates, and friends.
“He tries to act happy, but we do know that it is hurting him deep down and he does have tough moments,” said Carley. “But, he also tries to be kind of the brave one for the family.”
Support for the Matechuk family has come in from all corners of the globe since the crash, including plenty from Medicine Hat.
Layne’s connection to the city began almost four years ago, who he was picked in the second round of the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft by Medicine Hat Tigers head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston.
“What stands out to me now looking back is just what a great person he was,” said Clouston. “Great parents, great family, very respectful, just a real good person.”
Between 2015 and 2017, Layne dressed in six pre-season games for Medicine Hat and played alongside current Tigers like Cole Clayton, Daniel Baker, Trevor Longo, and Baxter Anderson.
Clayton remembered being the one to notify his Tigers teammates of the crash and added it’s been inspiring to watch Layne’s recovery from afar.
“I texted our group chat and I told everyone Layne was in the crash, and they were like, ‘Oh, that's awful,’” said Clayton. “Everyone remembered him, great guy, and it's cool to see him come back from that being a part of this team.”
That familial connection doesn’t surprise Clouston, who said his players formed a bond with Matechuk both on the ice and away from the rink.
“A lot of our players have been to spring camp with him, to main camp with him, to team building out at Eagles Nest [Ranch] or Cypress [Hills Park],” he said. “It’s not like they just played a few games together. You spend time in the hotel rooms, you spend time on the bus, you spend time on the ice and getting dressed, so you really get to know people.”
For the Matechuks, seeing Layne move over 500 kilometres away from home was difficult at first, but became more at ease hearing his stories of Tigers camp and pre-season games.
Even though Layne’s aspirations of a WHL career came to an end last April, Carley said the city and the Tigers will remain a big part of their family.
“It was such a short amount of time, but they treated him so well,” she said. “I think that he really enjoyed his time there and Medicine Hat really made an impact on him.”
Even in his lengthy recovery, Layne has had many moments to smile.
He flashed that smile last month receiving his high school diploma and meeting his hero Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh, while he took his first strides back on the ice in January in a series of viral Twitter videos shot by his father Kevin.
“Amazing to watch him skate again, because he's been skating [since] the same time he could walk,” said Carley. “So, to see that muscle memory come back is huge.”
Clayton said it was a powerful moment watching the videos, seeing his former teammate return to the sport that connected the pair back in 2015.
“If he can do it anyone can,” said Clayton. “It brings tears to your eyes just thinking about it. We’re so blessed to be playing the game and that was taken away from him, but he’s doing everything he can to get back into it.”
Approaching the one year anniversary of the crash, the Matechuk family will be spending the weekend together and are planning summer trips to their cabin near Prince Albert.
According to Clouston, people only have to look at the strength of family in times of tragedy.
“When you see somebody like Layne and obviously how hard he’s had to fight, and how much his family has had to deal with alongside him, it’s quite inspirational,” said Clouston. “It’s got to be extremely challenging and it shows how resilient human beings can be when you’ve got a strong family.”
Throughout the past year, the Matechuks’ slogan they’ve leaned on has been ‘believe.’
A word that they continue to hold onto, drawing inspiration everyday from their 19-year-old warrior.
“He is a miracle, he is a fighter, and he has worked harder than anyone that I have ever seen,” said Carley.
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