Utah Grizzlies: Still dreaming of the NHL

Grizz coach has come a long way since serious injury

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 3 2008 12:00 a.m. MST

"Probably more than I'd like to," he says.

He remembers going to the airport that morning to pick up his father, Tom, who had witnessed his son's first and second NHL games but hadn't yet been to Long Island, where Colley's team would be facing the Washington Capitals that night.

As his nightmarish evening unfolded, Colley would feel incredibly grateful for his dad's presence.

When the play that resulted in his neck injury developed and Colley had the opportunity to check Howard, he instinctively raced toward him. That's when his life changed forever.

"(I) just went into the boards there, and I knew something was wrong," says Colley. "Obviously if you watch the replay, you can see I was really scared. I knew my upper body was numb."

He initially wondered if he had been paralyzed but was able to move his legs and figured the injury wasn't "too, too severe."

"I just got up off the ice and went for an X-ray there, and I wasn't expecting to have four fractured vertebras," he says. "Next thing I know they're cutting my gear off, putting me in a neck brace, and away I went to the hospital."

With his father at his side, Colley came out of an MRI, at which point the doctor delivered brief but grim news.

"The doc just said, 'All right, we're gonna put a halo on you,'" Colley remembers. "And I'm lookin' at my dad like, 'What's going on?' ... So they just loaded the halo on right then and there with me awake. That's a scary moment when you're gettin' four screws drilled into your head and you're awake, but they had to get it stabilized."

Colley knew as soon as the halo was attached to his head that his career was over, and the process to be able to walk again and lead a normal life ensued.

Doctors performed multiple surgeries on Colley and were able to stabilize to him to the point where he would eventually be able to walk again. Recovering physically was extremely difficult, but recovering mentally was much tougher.

"It was a slow process getting back physically, but mentally it took me a solid year," he said. "After the neck brace goes on, there's really nothing to look forward to. You're just kind of a sitting duck. You don't know where your future's going. ... It took me a good year to get over that mentally."

Throughout a half-hour interview in his office recently, Colley repeatedly goes out of his way to praise his family and friends for supporting him throughout the entire ordeal. From his parents, Tom and Diane, to his sister, Tara, to his tight group of friends and wife Stacy, Colley says he's received extraordinary support from those around him over the past three years.

"You see the people that love you are there because they love you," Colley says. "Just to have the support from my family and friends that were there is very special."

Colley moved home after his injury and needed time and space to recover.

"Going through an injury like that, I obviously had some depression," he says. "(My family and friends) just let me work it out. There's no pressure on the timeline. The doc said it could take anywhere from 12 months to 24 months."

"I'm sure I was kind of moody with them sometimes, but everyone understood the situation and allowed me to get out of it with them and move on. I owe it all to them."

About a year after the injury, Colley called up Bridgeport president Howard Saffan and told him he was ready to get back into hockey.

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