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Charlottetown squad challenging other teams to help support Neil Doef
Luc Deschenes said he had an "empty feeling" when he first heard a former teammate had suffered a serious injury.
The Charlottetown Islanders' defenceman played with Neil Doef during a tournament in Austria in 2012. Islanders' defenceman Will Thompson was also on the team.
Doef, a 17-year-old player for the Smiths Falls Bears of the Central Canada junior A hockey league, suffered a spinal injury after colliding with a Swiss defenceman at the 2014 World Junior A Challenge in Kindersley, Sask., on Dec. 14. Doef has begun intensive rehab to regain the use of his legs.
"He was completely dedicated to hockey, so it's hard to see something happen to him," said Deschenes. "You wouldn't meet another guy in the hockey world as nice as him. We're hoping he does make it through recovery."
Thompson said Doef was a highly skilled forward.
"I only played with him for a week but he was a pretty elite player," said Thompson. "And just a really great guy."
He was shocked to hear the news.
"It's pretty hard to believe when that happens to anyone. When it's someone you played with, it just makes it more shocking."
The Islanders purchased 22 hats being sold by a novice A team in Carleton Place, Ont., with funds going to Doef's rehab. The team is extending the challenge to other Quebec Major Junior Hockey League teams to help support Doef.
Islanders' general manager Grant Sonier said the idea came up when Detroit Red Wings' scout Andrew Dixon, a friend of Sonier's and father of one of the novice players, recently visited the EastLink Centre.
"He asked if I wanted to buy one," Sonier said. "I bought 22 of them and decided to see if any other teams would take us up on the challenge."
The hats say Doef Strong and show the player's No. 19.
Doef had formerly committed to playing hockey at Princeton University.
Sonier said one of the most touching aspects to have occurred since Doef's injury is Princeton is still honouring its commitment to the player's scholarship, whether or not he ever plays with the team.
"That's the thing that touched me most," said Sonier. "It's pretty classy."
A twitter account @doefstrong97 has been set up to provide updates on any fundraisers as well as receive well wishes for Doef. A Facebook group, DoefStrong, has also been created.