The hockey world – particularly in New England – is in mourning right now as the news spread about the death of Travis Roy. His story of perseverance after tragedy made Roy a touchstone for all that can be accomplished through a positive attitude and will power and the mark he left on his community will be etched in permanently.
Roy was a freshman forward with Boston University in 1995 when he was paralyzed just 11 seconds into his NCAA career while attempting to hit a North Dakota opponent on the forecheck. Roy ended up hitting the boards awkwardly and was rendered a quadriplegic, though he later regained use of his right hand. Thus began the next stage in the young man’s life, as he established the Travis Roy Foundation to help those with spinal cord injuries, raising more than $9 million in the ensuing years. Nashville Predators coach John Hynes was on that Terriers team and he sees an incredible legacy from his old teammate.
“The first word is ‘inspirational,’ when you think of what he endured, ” Hynes said. “It was his dream to play at BU, then making the team and obviously 11 seconds into his career, to see everything he loved and what drove him was hockey and that was taken away from him. Just the way he responded to that – the money he raised – he turned an extremely negative situation into something where, you think about the impact he had, the speeches he did, the amount of people he helped and the way he went about it, that was remarkable.”
Along with his fundraising work, Roy was indeed a motivational speaker, touching the lives of many both within and outside the hockey world. Hockey players who had sustained similar injuries, such as Denna Laing and Jack Jablonski, made their feelings known on social media and Roy’s reach was so great that the city of Boston once celebrated Travis Roy Day back in 2015. Roy’s personality was a big part of his ability to reach people and he came by it naturally.
“He was a happy-go-lucky kid, easy to talk to,” Hynes said. “Eager to play, really upbeat, always had a smile on his face and brought positive energy to the team. He was just really passionate about life and he really loved hockey.”
Current BU coach Albie O’Connell was part of the same freshman class as Roy, going through the recruiting process together and skating at the traditional ‘Midnight Madness’ first practice in front of a packed crowd at the rink.
“That was the start of it and I remember the excitement going into that first game,” O’Connell said. “After the game, it was a pretty horrible message that Coach (Jack) Parker had to deliver. It was a tough hand that Travis got dealt.”
Hynes also remembers that game against North Dakota and the uncertainty that surrounded Roy’s condition until the match ended.
“It was hard,” he said. “You knew he was hurt, but not to what extent. The room was quiet after the game, we were all getting undressed. Coach Parker came in and he had tears in his eyes – the whole room went dead silent. It was a tough thing to go through as a team, but the way the leaders of the team and the coaching staff handled it was something I always remembered. We pushed forward to support Travis. To really go through it as a team, with him and his family – a lot of guys stayed in touch with Travis, whether it was a personal relationship with him, or helping raise money for his foundation – it wasn’t just that season, it lasted until he passed away.”
In his current post as the Terriers’ coach, O’Connell saw how Roy continued to impact the lives of everyone involved with BU hockey.
“He was always connected, no matter if it was incoming players or guys from the early years,” he said. “His bond with Coach Parker and his message really synergized the entire BU program, from guys who were 65, 70 years old, to incoming freshmen. He was a character kid, came from a great family and really had strong values. He was proud to be a part of BU. It doesn’t matter if you’re Travis, who played 11 seconds, or a guy who was an NHL star or a student manager – if you’re a part of the program, everyone is the same. You’re rooting for each other and I know everyone was always rooting for Travis.”
Roy died due to complications from a necessary surgery brought on by more than two decades of being in a wheelchair. He was 45.