Stingrays' Dylan Margonari returns after frightening injury, ready for season opener

Author: Andrew Miller - postandcourier.com
Date: Oct 20, 2017

It’s been almost nine months and the physical scars have nearly disappeared, but the memories from that night are still a little raw for South Carolina Stingrays forward Dylan Margonari.

It’s a like scab that he knows he needs to pull off for it to fully heal and talking about the incident can be equal parts cathartic and painful.

 That Margonari is back on the ice and playing for the Stingrays as they open the season Friday night is nothing short of a miracle. South Carolina plays Greenville at the North Charleston Coliseum at 7 p.m. to begin the franchise's 25th season in the Lowcountry.

When Margonari’s mind flashes back to that January night, he can still see himself racing down the ice on a breakaway. He has a step on two Florida defenders as he skates in on the goalie. Margonari remembers the shot and the push from behind just before he slammed head first into the boards.

The pain was blinding and Margonari briefly tried to get to his feet before slumping back down onto the ice.

Stingrays head trainer Rick Covard jumped off the bench and hurried to Margonari’s side.

“I really don’t remember much about the play,” Margonari said. "I remember coming in with a full head of steam and getting knocked off my edges and falling and then hitting the boards. Then it’s just this excruciating pain in my neck and I knew immediately that something was wrong.”

On the South Carolina bench, head coach Ryan Warsofsky had seen this scene before and knew the outcome could be serious. When Warsofsky was 8 years old, he saw Travis Roy, then a freshman hockey player at Boston University, slide head first into the boards. Roy damaged his fourth and fifth vertebra and was left a quadriplegic.

“It’s a really scary moment,” Warsofsky said. “You lose your breath for a minute. It’s hard to watch something like that happen to someone you really care about.”

At the hospital, the doctors told Margonari that he’d suffered a neck fracture. A million thoughts ran through his mind, but his main concern was whether he would be able to walk again. 

“The first thing I wanted to know is am I going to be able to live a normal life,” Margonari said.

Over the next week, Margonari underwent two surgeries and doctors told him a full recovery was likely. A flood of relief washed over Margonari and then his thoughts turned to getting back on the ice.

As his body healed and he regained his strength, Margonari began to show up at the rink to be around his teammates.

“It was so therapeutic for me to be around the boys,” Margonari said. “Anytime I felt down or went to a dark place, I’d try and get to the rink. After the first surgery they all showed up at the hospital and that really lifted my spirits.”

He watched from the stands as the Stingrays marched their way through the ECHL playoffs all the way to the Kelly Cup finals. The year before, he’d been on the ice for four postseason games with the Stingrays and wanted desperately to return.

“That was tough watching them play and make that run,” Margonari said. “The competitor in me really wanted to be back out there.”

There were moments, especially during those first three months after the injury, when Margonari thought about hanging up his skates and never playing professionally again.

“At first I wasn’t sure I was going to come back,” Margonari said. “By the end of June as the doctors started to ramp up workouts and my rehab was going better and better, I started to get that itch to play again. I didn’t want to sit around one day and wonder ‘what if.’"

When the season ended, Margonari returned to his hometown near Pittsburgh. By the end of July, the doctors cleared him to skate again. He went to his home rink — The Ice Castle — in Castle Shannon, Penn., a bedroom community near Pittsburgh just South of the Ohio River, and took his first tentative steps toward returning to professional hockey.

“The first time I got out there, I felt like a baby deer. I felt like Bambi,” Margonari said. “But I was so happy, so excited to be back on the ice. It had been five, maybe six months and I’d never been away from the game that long. Hockey was all I knew since I was a kid.”

As Margonari skated more, the speed and skill that caught the eye of the Washington Capitals began to return.

“It was frustrating at first because there was a good bit of rust on my game,” Margonari said. “The conditioning, the hands, the skating, it took a while to come back, but it did.”

A few days after Margonari's injury, Warsofsky told the young forward that if he was ever healthy again, he’d have a job with the Stingrays.

“I know what kind of kid Dylan is and to see that happen to him was tough,” Warsofsky said. “I didn’t want him to worry about having a spot with us. If he was healthy, we’d welcome him with open arms.”

Margonari reported to preseason camp with the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears in September. The Bears coaching staff called Warsofsky one afternoon to tell him that Margonia was progressing quickly.

“They said he was the best player on the ice for them,” Warsofsky said. “They told me that I wasn’t going to believe how good he was skating and playing.”

He’s been one of the top Stingrays forwards during preseason camp as well.

“He’s been phenomenal,” Warsofsky said. “He’s the same Dylan Margonari we saw last season. He has no fear. You’d never know that he was seriously hurt last year the way he’s been playing.”

During one of the Stingrays preseason games, Margonari took a stick to his mouth, lost three teeth and needed a half-dozen stitches.

“I think it’s just hockey welcoming me back,” Margonari said with chuckle, showing his missing teeth. “Now, I look the part, right? Hey, compared to what happened last year, this is nothing.”

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