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Holland Bloorview gives hockey player another shot

Dominic Cozzolino scored on his very first shot in sledge hockey – how’s that for a sign? 

That was six years ago and since then, the talented 23-year-old Mississauga resident has scored plenty of goals. 

In fact, he’s filled the net so often he’s been named as a forward for Canada’s Para Ice Hockey team that’s set to compete at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in South Korea. 

When Dom arrived at Holland Bloorview in the spring of 2009, he was shooting for something else – to be able to walk again. 

On March 2 that year, Dom was 14-years-old and playing in an AA hockey playoff game. He took a shot on goal and was immediately checked from behind. 

It looked like a typical hit but after crashing into the boards Dom didn’t move. He felt a vibration go up his spine and lost all feeling in his legs.

Dom suffered a compression fracture to one of his vertebra just above his tailbone. His vertebra literally exploded, sending bone fragments into his spinal canal which caused serious nerve damage. 

He underwent an eight-hour surgery and was told he had a 50-50 chance of ever walking again. 

Holland Bloorview becomes home

Dom fondly remembers Holland Bloorview, where he was an inpatient for almost six months.  “The Holland Bloorview staff were excellent in making you feel like you're part of their home,” he said. “I also met a lot of cool people at Holland Bloorview that I still talk to today.”

His days quickly became a flurry of physiotherapy and occupational therapy sessions, mixed in with high school courses at the Bloorview School Authority. 

There were good and bad days. On the bad days, Dom would look at his old hockey jersey that hung in his room. 

“I'd look at it and think about what happened,” he said. 

But he didn’t dwell on it. He was too focused on his recovery. 

“I remember really clearly the first time I started walking,” said Dom. 

As his hands gripped the therapy parallel bars and he started moving his legs, his hockey coach just happened to pop in for a visit and witnessed his first few steps. Dom remembers the stunned expression on his face.  

Better mobility and mindset

During his stay at Holland Bloorview, Dom gained much more than strength and mobility – he gained a new mindset and perspective.  

“You meet so many people that are going through their own challenges, and they just have such a positive outlook,” he said. “So it's tough to feel sorry for yourself for very long.” 

When Dom was discharged, he could walk short distances, and used a wheelchair when going on longer treks.

Fast forward to 2011, two years after his injury, and a physiotherapist mentioned sledge hockey to Dom. He suited up to give it a try. 

To his delight this was real hockey – there was skating, there was hitting, there were goals….this was the game he loved.

And when that very first shot went into the net, Dom knew he had found hockey again. 

Decorated in silver and gold

Over the past six years, Dom has proudly worn the Canadian national jersey, and has recently collected plenty of hardware. 

He won a silver medal with Team Canada at the 2016 World Sledge Hockey Challenge in PEI, and a gold medal at the 2017 International Para Hockey Tournament in Turin, Italy. 

And most recently, he and his teammates took home the gold at the 2017 World Para Ice Hockey Championships in South Korea. 

“That’s right up there with an Olympic gold for us in sledge hockey,” said Dom. “It was by far the most proud moment of my hockey career, especially because I played a big role on the team.” 

Today, Dom is training full-time. He’s either in the gym or on the ice, preparing to be as sharp as possible for next year’s Games.

But he always has time to talk about the hospital that helped him get back on his feet, physical and mentally.  

“Holland Bloorview was huge for me in changing my outlook,” said Dom. “I wouldn’t be who I am today without the amazing staff and friends I made there.”