oston College men’s hockey forward Logan Hutsko lined up for a faceoff during a November pregame skate for the United States National Team Development Program. As soon as the puck hit the ice, the Tampa, Fla. native—a high school junior at the time—lunged forward. Before he knew it, his head was trapped underneath the chest of his teammate. Hutsko felt a crack, and then the entire left side of his body went numb.
Immediately, the 16-year-old skated off the ice to his trainer, who told him that he had only pinched a nerve. But deep down, Hutsko had a hunch that something wasn’t right.
“I couldn’t even put my helmet on,” he recalled. “I had to unbuckle my helmet completely, loosen it completely, put it on my head and then tighten it again just to put it on. I was in a lot of pain.”
Regardless, Hutsko played the entire game that night. On the bus ride home to Ann Arbor, Mich., he texted his mother, Jill—who was serving as a billet mom for her son, as well as two other Shattuck-St. Mary’s alums—that his neck was still bothering him. Given that it was Thanksgiving weekend, Hutsko didn’t want to disturb his trainer. As a result, Jill took him to a walk-in clinic, where he got X-rays.
At first, the doctors didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Even though Hutsko had a golf-ball sized lump forming on the backside of his right shoulder blade, he returned to the ice. He practiced three times and participated in team lifts before his mother got a call from the clinic the following Thursday—six days after the initial injury. The doctors had found something in the X-rays and wanted Hutsko back for a CT scan.
It wasn’t just something, it was a C6 vertebrae fracture.
In other words, it was a spinal cord injury that affects the base of the neck and can often result in the loss of function of everything in the body from practically the chest down—one that had haunted hockey players just like Hutsko in the past.
Just four years earlier, Minnesota high school sophomore Jack Jablonski was driven face-first into the boards of a championship game, breaking both his C5 and C6 vertebrae, effectively paralyzing him in the process. Then, of course, there’s Travis Roy, the fabled Boston University forward who crashed into boards when attempting to make a shoulder check during the first game of the Terriers’ 1995-96 campaign. In doing so, he shattered his fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae, leaving him paralyzed a mere 11 seconds into his collegiate career.
Another hit to the neck or even a slight movement of the fracture over the course of the six days that Hutsko practiced undiagnosed could have completely changed his life.
“Thank God I didn’t get touched or hit once,” he said.
“There’s a pretty high chance of paralysis when you break the spot that I broke. It happened so easily, I was like ‘What if it happens again, and I don’t get so lucky?’” Logan Hutsko
rior to the injury, Hutsko had never missed a practice or a game, at least to the knowledge of his father, Todd. The winger lived, breathed, and talked hockey from the moment he first set his eyes on the ice.
Born in Florida, Hutsko moved to Pittsburgh when he was just over a year old. It was there that he attended his first professional hockey game. He surprised his parents by making it all the way through the three-period affair. The Penguins—albeit last place in the Atlantic Division—wowed the 3-year-old Hutsko. What really turned his head, though, were the mini mites. Watching elementary school kids skate up and down the ice inside Mellon Arena convinced him that he could play the game, too.
For Hutsko—a kid with everlasting energy—some sports were just boring. His dad remembers coaching his little league baseball team and watching his son try to steal bases before even taking a lead was allowed, not because he wanted to break the rules, but because he was tired of standing around. Soccer was more in tune with his interests, but it ultimately paled in comparison to hockey.
Hutsko spent most of his summer days playing roller hockey in his driveway with his dog Stanley—a Mastiff named after the Stanley Cup, specifically Lord Stanley of Preston. While Hutsko practiced his stick work and puck handling, Stanley chased him, acting as a permanent defenseman. Short practically all his life—at least by hockey standards—Hutsko had to harness his skill. If anything, though, his size, or lack thereof, made him a better player.
“[His small stature] never really stopped him,” Hutsko’s sister, Megan, said. “It just became part of his game.”
Looking for every way to improve, he went as far as forcing Megan and his parents to play mini sticks with him. Of course, Stanley participated too. Despite being relatively new to the sport, the family was all-in on Hutsko’s hockey journey, even if that meant watching him leave home as a young teenager.
After moving to Canada and playing three seasons in the Greater Toronto Hockey League with his birth year, Hutsko—13 years old at the time—made the decision to attend Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, a coed boarding school in Faribault, Minn., as one of head coach John LaFontaine’s two underagers. Rather than being able to drive 30 minutes to watch their son play, Todd and Jill were 800-some miles away from their son. Not only that, but because Megan—five years Hutsko’s elder—had left for college that same fall, they were already empty nesters.
The transitional year was just as hard for Hutsko as it was for his parents, who returned to the States and moved to New Jersey. Playing up a year is one thing. Doing it during puberty is another. Undersized and underdeveloped, Hutsko struggled in his first year at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Luckily for him, LaFontaine was there for him every step of the way, acting as a father figure of sorts. And before he knew it, everything started to click.
Between his time on the Bantam team and the U-16 Prep team, Hutsko racked up 78 goals and 161 assists, totaling 239 points, all while winning both the U-14 and U-16 National Championship. He played so well during his three-year stay that he earned an invitation to join the U.S. National Team Development Program. But with the offer came yet another move. This time, Todd and Jill decided that Hutsko wouldn’t be going to Ann Arbor on his own.
“It was just really important for us to keep the fabric of our family and keep our values and our value system and what’s important to us,” Todd said, citing the fact that Hutsko had already been away from home for three years.
So, Jill packed her bags and flew out to Michigan to billet Hutsko and two other Shattuck-St. Mary’s players. That way, he’d live somewhat of a normal life as an upperclassmen. Little did his parents know, those would be two of the toughest years of their son’s life.
here’s only so much you can do when you’re in a neck brace.
Hutsko went to the rink every day to watch film and support his teammates, but, in the early stages of the recovery process, rehab was minimal, and activities like running and biking were completely off limits. In a way, though, the accident was a blessing in disguise.
It opened up a dialogue between Hutsko and his parents about life after hockey—what he wanted to study or pursue professionally if he indeed had to turn away from the game he loved. Also, because of the injury, he was able to come home for holidays, an unlikely reunion for the family amid his stint with the U.S. National Team Development Program.
Doctors reassured Hutsko and his family that when he stepped foot on the ice again he’d be at the same risk to re-injure his neck as any other skater, but that didn’t stop the forward’s mind from wandering on occasion.
“There’s a pretty high chance of paralysis when you break the spot that I broke,” Hutsko said. “It happened so easily, I was like ‘What if it happens again, and I don’t get so lucky?’”
The trepidation stuck with him for months, even after he returned to the team—it was noticeable too. His first game back, he skated timidly and avoided any kind of contact. When he took his first hit, he immediately retreated to the bench, thinking that he had broken his neck again. He was fine, but head coach Don Granato thought that if he played any longer looking like a deer in the headlights, he’d be due for another injury.
Todd remembers getting a call from Granato and being told that, even though Todd had flown all the way out to Ann Arbor, he was going to healthy scratch Hutsko the following night, something that had never happened to the 5-foot-10 forward.
“He was either going to not play anymore or he was going to have to go out and play like he used to, but anything less than that wasn’t going to be successful for him,” Todd said.
Hutsko responded in a big way. After earning back Granato’s trust, he notched a hat trick in the season finale against the Youngstown Phantoms. The three-goal performance kickstarted a productive summer for Hutsko, who was preparing for his senior year. But, just as he got his swagger back, it vanished again.
“He had been out of hockey for so long. Is he going to be able to compete at this level and how is going to do? I think everyone had that question in their mind.” Jill Hutsko
our games into his final season of juniors—the year in which elite prospects typically hear their names called at the NHL Entry Draft—Hutsko blew out his knee.
Just like the previous year, what was a serious injury was initially misdiagnosed. Only this time, it took the doctors more than a week to get it right—three months to be exact. Without an MRI, Hutsko was tasked with rehabbing his knee. But, week after week, he wasn’t getting any better—if anything, it hurt more than when he sustained the collision. Quite simply, the exercises he performed exacerbated the injury. Frustrated, Hutsko went back to the doctors for an MRI. Lo and behold, in addition to a bipartite patella, he had also torn his meniscus, most likely during rehab. All of a sudden, the injury required surgery, not physical therapy.
Hutsko’s season was gone, and so were his hopes of being drafted that summer. That wasn’t all, though. He wasn’t even sure he’d still be able to play at BC. Worried about the status of his scholarship, Hutsko called assistant coach Mike Ayers.
“I said, ‘Hey coach, I really think I rehab this and get surgery on it and come in and make an impact next year,’” Hutsko remembered. “‘And it doesn’t matter where I play: first, second, third, fourth line, scratch a couple times—it’s a four-year process, I just want to get there and start developing and start getting my team back to where it was.’”
Without hesitation, Ayers affirmed that he, head coach Jerry York, and the rest of the coaching staff still wanted Hutsko and would honor his scholarship, regardless of the circumstances. Rather than having surgery in Ann Arbor, the BC coaching staff arranged that Hutsko have the operation at Newton-Wellesley Hospital with Robert Nascimento, an orthopedic surgeon who had been working with the team since 2010.
“The first time I met with [Hutsko], he was confident he was going to get over this, but he wasn’t sure how,” Nascimento said. “I think after he and I spoke, literally five minutes later, he called and said, ‘We are going through with this, we’re having the surgery—we’re going to get this done.’ I think from that point forward, he never looked back.”
After having a piece of his knee cap removed and his meniscus trimmed, he entered the modified rehab process. But, because of his neck injury and minimal time on the ice between accidents, he lacked some of his typical functionality. As a result, his journey back to the ice was taxing and, at times, disheartening. According to Nascimento, Hutsko did just about everything you could possibly do with BC’s conditioning staff, focusing on strengthening his leg and stabilizing his core. He had his mind set on an opening day return—Nascimento, on the other hand, was a bit more conservative.
“We would have been very happy with getting him back by December,” he said.
Yet Hutsko surprised everyone by working his way back to the ice, just in time for the Eagles’ October exhibition against New Brunswick at Warrior Ice Arena. Everyone—including his parents—were uncertain how he’d perform. After all, he essentially missed the final two seasons of his high school career, peak development time in the world of hockey.
“He had been out of hockey for so long,” Jill said. “Is he going to be able to compete at this level and how is going to do? I think everyone had that question in their mind.”
utsko answered that question pretty quickly.
The freshman tallied four points in his first four regular season games. If you didn’t know his story, you would’ve never suspected that he had suffered a season-ending knee injury the year prior, far less a career-threatening neck fracture before that. Hutsko flew across the ice with his head up, always looking to make the extra pass.
Not everything was smooth sailing, however. Eventually, the fatigue kicked in. Hutsko went two months without finding the back of the net once. The length of the drought was slightly exaggerated because of Christmas break, but it was substantial nonetheless. That said, the three-week hiatus couldn’t have come at a better time for Hutsko. It gave himself a chance to reassess his progress and, more importantly, self-motivate.
“He says, ‘Dad, I’m going to go back, and I’m going to tear it up,’” Todd said. “And I said, ‘That’s great, but just remember words are one thing, actions are another.’ He goes, ‘No, Dad. I feel confident—like I feel like I am going to have a great back half.’”
Great would be an understatement. Following the break, it took him just three games to etch his name into the scorecard. From there, Hutsko took off.
On Feb. 9, he posted his second career two-goal game, vaulting BC over Massachusetts Lowell. Thriving under pressure, Hutsko logged the equalizer at the start of the third period. Then, with 6.8 seconds remaining in overtime, he beat River Hawks goaltender Christoffer Hernberg top shelf for the one-timer, slotting the game-winning goal.
Three days later, Hutsko recorded a hat trick in the Beanpot consolation game against Harvard. All three goals came in the span of 11 minutes and 23 seconds in the third period. The comeback effort proved too little, too late, but the loss didn’t take away from Hutsko’s performance: he was on the brink of something special.
The freshman racked up 11 points in the final eight games of the season, rounding out the 2017-18 campaign with 12 goals and 19 assists for a team-leading 31 points. Although the Eagles were bounced from the conference tournament in the semifinal round and failed to make the NCAA Tournament, Hutsko was named Hockey East Rookie of the Year. It wasn’t until he sat through all of the banquets and season-ending events that it all began to sink in.
“I spent the whole year just building confidence—I think the player I came in, versus the player that I was at the end of the year … it was night and day,” Hutsko said.
Front offices took notice. That June, Hutsko found himself sitting inside the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft—an event he and his family looked forward to since he was a kid. The year before, Hutsko spent draft week with his father, golfing at Pebble Beach, avoiding the television at all costs. While he was happy for his birth year teammates, the sheer fact that he wasn’t joining them stung, and reasonably so. But that pain all went away when he was picked in the third round of this summer’s draft.
With the 89th overall pick, the Florida Panthers selected Hutsko—the perfect fit, not just in terms of hockey, but location too. The Tampa boy was back where it all started with heaps of familial support. Todd, Jill, and Megan broke out into tears.
“Boy, when that happened, it just, it was a moment I’ll never forget,” Todd said. “As a father, you always want to say, you have to fight through adversity. The guys that fight through adversity win in the end, and you tell them that, and you hope that it happens—and it did.”
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Editor
Photo by Celine Lim / Heights Editor