Chace Sperling’s road to recovery

Photo+Credit%3A+RMU+Athletics

Photo Credit: RMU Athletics

By Owen Krepps, Podcast / Webshow Manager

Steven Stamkos is one of the most prolific and accomplished hockey players in the current era of the sport. But in November of 2013, after crashing into the net against the Boston Bruins, Stamkos broke his tibia and fibula. Still to this day, he is suffering from that injury that happened almost a decade ago.

Imagine going through this, but not as an accomplished NHL player, but as a freshman NCAA women’s hockey player. That is exactly what Robert Morris defender Chace Sperling has dealt with these past six months. In the summer of 2020, Sperling broke both her tibia and fibula and had an artery puncture in her leg that could have almost caused her to lose it.

Sperling, before the accident, was to play in her first-ever NCAA season with Robert Morris University, coming in as a highly-regarded offensive defender. RMU has had a history of producing talent from the back-end with players such as Maggie LaGue, Kirsten Welsh, and Emily Curlett, and Sperling looked to add to that success.

Instead, she found herself locked up in a hospital for eleven straight days with no visitors due to COVID-19, and little to no connections with her teammates, friends, and family. Her recovery process was set to last six to eight months with the doctors telling her that It would take about a year for her body to fully heal itself. It was an egregious and tantalizing task, but Sperling pushed through and was able to play not only her first game back from injury months before expected but her first-ever NCAA hockey game on February 6th, 2021.

“I was really fortunate. It is almost a miracle that my leg healed as fast as it did,” Sperling said. “It was sad because I knew I wasn’t able to play hockey, that was part of why I came to RMU, so it was hard to swallow that one. It was just emotionally draining. Especially being a freshman, I didn’t get to experience going to classes in the first semester and meeting people or playing with the girls.”

Coming in as a freshman, the expectation for any collegiate athlete is to try and make the lineup. Not only did Sperling have her issues with her leg, but she was also new to the collegiate life, and still was adjusting to the challenges that COVID-19 has brought to the table.

“It has been hard for sure, you don’t get to meet as many people, you don’t get to go to classes all the time,” Sperling said. “It has been difficult, but that is the world that we are living in right now. I am sure the team and even myself agree that the crowds are what make hockey games [so special]. But we always have another season so especially as a freshman I will get to experience it eventually.”

Chemistry and the interactions that teammates have with each other is something that cannot be overlooked in sports. Teams that have success tend to get along with each other outside of the playing field. For Sperling, this was a challenge as in the early parts of her injury she did not get to spend as much time with her teammates as she would have liked. Still, she claims that the RMU women’s hockey program always made her comfortable in her recovery process.

“I missed out on even just in the dressing room being with the girls and going for warmups,” Sperling said. “The girls were always including me even when my injury was bad. But to get back with the girls and build chemistry and build better relationships, I honestly feel like since I got back after Christmas, that my relationships with the girls have gotten a lot stronger.”

The turning point for Sperling’s recovery came over Christmas break where Chace and her father hit the ice every day in her hometown of Theodore, Saskatchewan. At first, Sperling could not even bend her knees, but after days of continuous grinding, progress was made.

“I worked really hard over Christmas break with my dad in my small town rink. We went out every single day to get back and get back into the swing of things… When I first stepped on the ice I couldn’t skate, I couldn’t bend my knee, I couldn’t do anything,” she said. “It was kinda like re-learning how to do everything but once I kinda got the hang of it was all just muscle memory.”

Joining a team only one month before the playoffs is something that most players only do when they are moved at the trade deadline in some levels. For the Colonials and Sperling, this was a different case as Sperling made her NCAA debut in a loss against the Penn State Nittany Lions on February 6, 2020.

“It was pretty awesome. I was really happy and excited about just how far I have come since my accident. I knew I shouldn’t have been there.”

Sperling, despite almost losing her leg six months earlier, went out on the ice and played as if nothing had ever happened. She states that nowadays she does not even worry about her leg’s health anymore.

“Honestly I don’t worry about my leg anymore. I feel as if it is totally healed. If coach calls me, I am ready to step on the ice and give it my all. I am not worried about one bit.”

The goal for Sperling for the rest of this season is to help the team as much as she can.

With only two series left until the College Hockey America (CHA) playoffs, Sperling not only looks to remain in the lineup but looks to improve the team on the blue-line. Sperling played three seasons with the Saskatoon Stars in the SFMAAAHL alongside current Colonial Joelle Fiala and she tallied 44 points in 82 games played.

“I would say I am an offensive defenseman so I like to rush the puck up a lot like [Emily Curlett] does,” Sperling said. “When the job needs to be done in front of the net I get down and dirty and get the girls out in front. My speed is one thing that really puts me in front of others being how fast I actually am.”

Chace Sperling will be able to play her first-ever home game for the RMU Colonials this upcoming weekend against Sacred Heart.

Women’s hockey is entering the final stretch of their regular-season. For additional coverage on the program, stay tuned to Colonial Sports Network.

For the full interview with Sperling click here.