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Injured North Vancouver junior hockey player waits nearly two hours for ambulance

North Van Wolf Pack player doing OK after scary incident unfolds at Burnaby Winter Club
Wolf Pack - web Paul McGrath
Members of the North Vancouver Wolf Pack battle against the Grandview Steelers during a 2019 game at Harry Jerome Arena. A Wolf Pack player was forced to wait on the ice for nearly two hours after getting injured during a game between the same two teams Sept. 26, 2021 in Burnaby.

An apparent shortage of ambulance service in British Columbia hit home for a North Vancouver junior hockey player who lay on the ice for nearly two hours after suffering an injury.

A Sept. 26 PJHL junior B game between the North Vancouver Wolf Pack and Grandview Steelers was halted when Wolf Pack player Kaj Burgess was injured midway through the second period. The player was fully conscious but said he felt tingling in his neck following a blow to the head, and so the decision was made to immobilize the player and call emergency personnel.

“He had full movement in his hands and his feet, but anytime you’re dealing with anything spinal or neck-related, I don’t think you can ever be too cautious,” said Wolf Pack head coach and general manager Matt Samson.  

Firefighters arrived about 35 minutes after the incident and agreed with the team’s training staff that the player should stay immobilized on the ice until paramedics arrived. But the minutes kept ticking by with the player lying on the ice.

“He was talking and smiling a little bit,” said Samson. “His dad was there and he talked to his mom on speakerphone. He was in really good spirits considering, but just frustrated. And he was definitely getting cold.”

Team officials and spectators did what they could to keep Burgess comfortable.

“We were layering him up with blankets – the firefighters had a couple, and then we had moms handing blankets down from the stands that they were using to watch the game,” said Samson. “It was definitely something I've never been a part of. Thankfully, it wasn't a serious injury but just a strange thing. At one point the kid was like, ‘well I'll just get up.’ And the firefighters were like ‘nah, it's not worth it.’”

In the meantime, a decision was made to postpone the game and finish it at a later date.

“Guys were getting cold, guys were sitting around for an hour and a half and it was getting late on a Sunday night and we had no idea if an ambulance was going to finally arrive, so we just called it,” said Samson.

The ambulance arrived about an hour and 45 minutes after the injury occurred, and it was fairly quick work for paramedics to check the player and safely load him onto a stretcher and take him to the hospital. He was released later that night.

Samson said he isn’t sure exactly how the injury happened, as he didn’t see the play himself, and the game video did not catch it either. Burgess was reportedly involved in an altercation with a Grandview player behind the play in the Wolf Pack defensive zone – both players were to be assessed penalties, Samson said – when a second Grandview player got involved in the skirmish.

“It was something done to him by an opponent,” said Samson. “Obviously the intent was not to have him hurt, but probably in hindsight the player on Grandview wished that he probably didn’t do it.”

An apparent lack of paramedic coverage in the Lower Mainland and throughout B.C. was noted on several occasions earlier this year. In late May, North Shore municipal leaders sounded the alarm after staffing problems in B.C. Emergency Health Services left North Vancouver badly lacking paramedic coverage for an entire weekend.

In July a North Vancouver woman who fell from her bicycle lay injured on the street for more than five hours before paramedics arrived. And ambulance services were stretched to the brink during the extreme “heat dome” in B.C., with waits up to 11 hours reported in Vancouver.

Following the heat wave, the B.C. government vowed to overhaul of the ambulance service, moving to add dozens of new full-time paramedics, dispatchers and ambulances.

Sunday’s incident at the Burnaby Winter Club ended positively – Samson said Burgess is resting at home this week and plans to get in some light skating in the next day or two – but it was nonetheless frightening in the moment.

“You're anxious, you obviously feel terrible for the player, and it's just scary,” he said. “You never want to go on the ice and see your player down. Obviously, he was a little bit scared, and you don't know what happened.”

The game was tied 1-1 when it was halted 13 minutes and 28 seconds into the second period. It will be completed at a later date.