To some families in Minnesota, the game of hockey plays such a large role in their lives it almost feels like a right. But it’s not. It’s a privilege. Like many things in life, hockey can be taken away by unforeseen circumstances.
Just ask Matt Scherber.
He never takes hockey for granted. In fact, he rarely takes anything for granted since the moment nearly everything was taken from him.
Five years ago, Matt was a hard working husband and father of two with a bright future. He was working construction on top of attending school and caring for his young family. Life was good. Then, the unexpected happened. While on a roofing project in late November, he slipped on a patch of ice and fell three stories to the ground. Matt’s life changed instantly as he suffered numerous head and facial fractures, a traumatic brain injury and permanent blindness.
The next couple of years were a blur as the road to recovery took Matt to many different hospitals. The severity of the brain trauma combined with the loss of eyesight forced him to relearn all of the basic tasks of life that had at one time come so naturally, starting with walking and talking. In addition to physical and emotional toll of his own injuries, Matt was stunned with another setback, losing his wife in a divorce.
Despite challenges that can be suffocating to even the most distant observer, Matt stayed true to who he was. Since his days as a high school hockey player, Matt was known as a person with a contagious, up-beat attitude. His tragedies didn’t set him back one bit. After the roofing accident, Matt was quick to set goals and started making progress towards a new future.
“Think of the positives, not just the negatives,” said Matt, on how he has been able to keep a positive attitude. “Remember the negatives to where you can gain [from them]. But remember the positives on why you are doing it and what will be the outcome because of it.”
Aside from Matt’s optimistic outlook, staff members also played a key role in those early days by re-introducing him to the world of fitness at a local recreation center. As Matt regained some of his skills and physical strength, his confidence grew exponentially. It was not long after that and just two years following the accident that Matt made his return to hockey, a game he has loved since age four.
“I remember being contacted about Matt by Jane Cashin, our league president,” said his coach, Dale Veer. “She explained how Matt used to play hockey and then was in a bad accident and is now totally blind. I didn’t know what to expect, but [I] knew we would somehow make it work and make the experience both enjoyable and meaningful for Matt.”
Veer took the first step in assisting Matt’s transition back onto the ice by purchasing a large step stool. The stool gave Matt a prop he could use for balance, giving him a sense of control and independence that fueled his drive to recover his skating stride and the feeling of flying around the ice.
“When I got the note about Matt skating again, I was not surprised at all," said Mike MacMillan, Scherber’s former coach at Buffalo High School. “As a coach, I think there are certain players that stick out, not because of how many goals they score or where they go to college, but the passion they have for the team, program and the game.”
That passion and desire to get better has led to significant improvements for Matt over the past three years. He skates forwards and backwards with surprising grace and power, pushing the ladder as well as his friend and support system, Ryan Erlandson, around the rink quicker than many can skate without any resistance.
Matt is always focusing on what he can improve on. Lately, they have been working on his shot too. Ryan gives Matt cues for aiming by talking to him and tapping on the posts, a method that is already showing impressive results as they have moved from simply trying to hit the net to picking spots.
“Every practice and every game, Ryan and Matt are inseparable and inspirational,” said Veer. “They laugh and joke around a lot and seem to enjoy every minute together on the ice, and Ryan works Matt hard.”
If there is one person that can match Matt’s endearing attitude, it is Ryan. Being teammates since they were four years old, the bond between the two is unmistakable.
“I will always be thankful that my best friend is the strongest, most successful and most inspirational person that I know,” said Ryan. “Matt’s unyielding determination and success throughout the years have undoubtedly been contagious. His strength seems to get shared with everyone who knows him.”
Matt’s mom, Kathy, shares that same sentiment, noting that much of her strength has come from him. Since the divorce, Kathy has been Matt’s primary guardian and supporter away from the rink. The task, while unbelievably taxing and difficult at times, has also been extremely rewarding as Matt continues to exceed her expectations in every facet of life.
“I get down sometimes and he always lifts me up,” said Kathy.
Away from the rink, Kathy has watched him grow as a loving parent of his own as his son, Landen, and daughter, Alayna, spend every other weekend with Matt at her house - time each of them cherish. He has even restored his relationship with Lindsay, his ex-wife, to where they take a cooperative approach to raising their kids.
As Matt continues to set goals for himself, he hopes to one day combine his passions of hockey and family by helping coach his son’s team.
“[It will be] really hard,” said Matt. “I won’t be able to actually see what others are doing so I probably will [just] have to be a good father and help him through the difficult times. Remember what helped me throughout the times to get better and better at that particular part of hockey.”
If Landon can combine his dad’s passion for the game, desire to improve, ability to impact others and heartwarming attitude, a few things will happen for sure. He will be a hockey player to keep an eye on. His teammates will love playing with him. Most importantly, his dad will be extremely proud of him regardless of how he performs on the ice.
Matt’s ability to overcome his hardships and challenges is not only inspirational, but he encourages us to not take things for granted and that a positive attitude can bring you a long way. After all, the real joy in life comes from the ability to do the things we love with the people we love. If you do that, you cannot lose.
Minnesota Special Hockey exists for the enrichment of the athlete with a developmental disability. In addition to physical hockey skills, the program emphasizes the development of desirable individual characteristics such as dependability, self-reliance, concentration, teamwork, willingness to share and personal accountability. There are six Special Hockey teams in the Twin Cities area and eight total in Minnesota. For more information, visit mnspecialhockey.org.
Coach Veer put together this slideshow to commemorate the Wildcats' 2012-13 season.