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Chambers: NHL prospects are suffering. Just ask Avalanche draftee Matthew Stienburg

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The COVID-19 pan­dem­ic has made it a dif­fi­cult year for NHL prospects — the recent­ly draft­ed play­ers and those eli­gi­ble in 2021 and beyond.

Some high school, junior and col­lege leagues have begun play­ing. Oth­ers have not. And some have had their sea­sons can­celed.

It’s hard to devel­op into a pro­fes­sion­al hock­ey play­er with­out play­ing high-lev­el hock­ey games.

The six Ivy League teams play­ing in the East­ern Col­lege Ath­let­ic Con­fer­ence have nixed 2020–21, which takes me to Cor­nell sopho­more cen­ter Matthew Stien­burg, the 2019 Avalanche third-round draft pick from Nathan MacKinnon’s home­town of Hal­i­fax, Nova Sco­tia.

Long before the Ivy League teams offi­cial­ly shut­tered its sea­son Nov. 12, Stien­burg sought anoth­er place to play while main­tain­ing his NCAA eli­gi­bil­i­ty and tak­ing Cor­nell online cours­es. He set­tled on the West Kelow­na War­riors of the British Colum­bia Hock­ey League (junior‑A).

Then he broke his leg. Ten games into what the BCHL con­sid­ered an extend­ed train­ing camp, Stien­burg blocked a shot, fell to the ice, wreath­ing in pain, and ulti­mate­ly skat­ed to the bench on one leg. He knew he was hurt, but he didn’t know he was injured.

Stienburg’s next shift began on a face­off. “Once I pushed off, it gave out,” he said of the fibu­la bone in his left leg. “It was dis­placed.”

That was Nov. 7. He under­went surgery last week in Ottawa, Ontario, where he is now recov­er­ing at the home of his aunt and uncle. Stien­burg was on a Zoom call with his Cor­nell team­mates on Nov. 12 when the Ivy League announced it was can­cel­ing the sea­son.

While he was done for the sea­son, he was hop­ing to root on the Big Red, which was ranked third nation­al­ly with a 23–2‑4 record in March when the remain­der of the 2019–20 NCAA was can­celed because of coro­n­avirus. All cur­rent Ivy League play­ers can choose to take a red­shirt year.

“I guess if there’s a year to have an injury, this is it, giv­en the cir­cum­stances of all the oth­er leagues not play­ing,” Stien­burg said. “I guess I’m lucky that way. But it’s nev­er fun to go through a rehab process.”

Stien­burg, 20, said the Avalanche has been help­ful and sup­port­ive of his jour­ney while main­tain­ing the nec­es­sary dis­tance required by the NCAA. The Avs select­ed Stien­burg with the 63rd selec­tion last year, thus they have a deep invest­ment in a smart play­er who will prob­a­bly have an Ivy League edu­ca­tion before he signs pro­fes­sion­al­ly.

“My No. 1 goal and dream is to play for Col­orado but I rec­og­nize the val­ue of an Ivy League edu­ca­tion,” he said.

His recov­ery will take around six months, at which point he and every­one else hopes the COVID cri­sis is under con­trol.

“It’s obvi­ous­ly been a roller-coast­er for every­body and I guess a lit­tle bit more for myself — the trav­el, the injury, the uncer­tain­ty — but it’s been a tough year for every­body and I’m sure there’s a lot of peo­ple that have more seri­ous stuff going on than a bro­ken leg,” Stien­burg said.

“I’m obvi­ous­ly hap­py I can get home now for the hol­i­days and spend some time with my fam­i­ly.”

That’s cur­rent­ly the sil­ver lin­ing for 2020.

dp sports?d=yIl2AUoC8zA - Chambers: NHL prospects are suffering. Just ask Avalanche draftee Matthew Stienburg dp sports?i=PtaSDjgBPDc:cyn4 0lkb58:F7zBnMyn0Lo - Chambers: NHL prospects are suffering. Just ask Avalanche draftee Matthew Stienburg dp sports?d=qj6IDK7rITs - Chambers: NHL prospects are suffering. Just ask Avalanche draftee Matthew Stienburg dp sports?i=PtaSDjgBPDc:cyn4 0lkb58:V sGLiPBpWU - Chambers: NHL prospects are suffering. Just ask Avalanche draftee Matthew Stienburg

PtaSDjgBPDc - Chambers: NHL prospects are suffering. Just ask Avalanche draftee Matthew Stienburg

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