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July 30, 2014

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Mending, one day at a time

Ferraro struggles to beat debilitating effects of a punch that could end his career

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Shelley Lipke / Victoria News

A sucker punch by Victoria player Robin Gomez leveled Wranglers right wing Chris Ferraro, above, in a game on March 1, 2008.

The dizziness and migraines continue. Wranglers right wing Chris Ferraro’s left inner ear is damaged, so his balance is off. He has a blind spot in his left eye, and fatigue makes that eyelid flutter.

Since Robin Gomez sucker-punched him two months ago during a game in Victoria, British Columbia, Ferraro has struggled to regain his stability, stamina and sanity.

He hasn’t played for the Wranglers since the incident. Doctors have cautiously pegged September for a return to competitive hockey. Ferraro wonders whether he’ll play again.

He’s also been dealing with Bell’s palsy, a temporary facial paralysis that can be associated with trauma. Sometimes after he yawns, he must straighten his left cheek with his hand.

Ferraro wanted to hide in a closet, but he kept going to games at the Orleans Arena to support his teammates. He stands outside the dressing room and high-fives them after games. Last weekend, he helped an equipment manager store sticks in their proper places.

“I was embarrassed how I looked and felt,” he says. “It was really difficult for me to attend the games in those conditions, but I needed to be there. My presence is something, I hope.”

He returned to the ice, for balance treatment, three weeks ago. Last weekend, he wound up dry heaving on the ice when he skated too hard.

After a doctor-prescribed layoff, he went to the Las Vegas Ice Center on Wednesday. Twenty minutes into the workout, he sat on a bench to gather himself. Heavy breathing, he says, induces nausea.

Youth coach Ken Quinney tells six players how lucky they are to be training with a professional at the ice center. He says it looks like Ferraro is skating well. “But I don’t know how he’s feeling.”

Ferraro, 35, asks himself that question every morning.

“Every day is a different animal,” he says. “I’m fighting it on and off the ice.”

As the Wranglers and Chris’ identical twin, Peter, battle through the ECHL Kelly Cup playoffs, Ferraro hopes and prays to get through one day without a headache.

“I’ve broken down on numerous occasions,” he says. “The team is in a special situation here, to do something great. For me not to be involved is heartbreaking.”

Ferraro, 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, was preparing to take a face-off when the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Gomez jumped off the Salmon Kings bench for a line change, zipped behind Ferraro and belted him.

Ferraro lay in a pool of blood as a teammate stood over him for protection. Several Wranglers took shots at Gomez, an agitator who routinely racks up 200 penalty minutes a season.

Gomez, 26, was arrested and charged with assault causing bodily harm. His case is moving through the Canadian legal system. The ECHL, a feeder league to the American Hockey League, suspended him for the rest of the season.

Victoria management has said it wouldn’t tolerate such actions by one of its players and that Gomez will have to accept the repercussions.

Ferraro tries to attend therapy sessions, which include running on a treadmill and conditioning on a stationary bike, two or three times a week. Skating is part of his balance treatment. But all of that is based on how he feels when he wakes up.

Doctors say he’s fortunate that he didn’t suffer a skull fracture. He still could be in a coma. He could have broken his neck. Brain scans and MRI tests were negative.

“It’s all a fog,” Ferraro says. “Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a player. Fifteen minutes later, I’m on a medical table getting eight stitches in the back of my head.”

His brother did not see the cheap shot and vows to never watch the tape. Two weeks after the incident, Chris Ferraro looked at it.

He pauses for 15 seconds.

“I forgive and forget very easily,” he says. “This is a competitive sport, but he deserves punishment to the highest degree. It’s a choice he made.”

The fact that March 1 was Salute to Minor Hockey night, a celebration for kids playing the sport, in the Victoria arena exacerbated the incident.

“For them to witness such a horrible act is just atrocious,” Ferraro says. “There’s no room whatsoever for forgiveness. There are too many negative things going on here.”

Neither Gomez nor anyone from the Victoria organization has contacted Ferraro to apologize or check on his condition.

Fine, Ferraro says. That doesn’t bother him. It just shows what type of person Gomez is.

“A real man would have called the very next day,” Ferraro says. “You can be as tough and physical on the ice as you want to be. But when it comes to real life, are you a man? That’s just immaturity.”

This summer, Ferraro likely will face Gomez when he testifies at the trial. If they come within paces of each other in the hall and Gomez tries to extend an apologetic hand, Ferraro will keep walking.

“That’s too convenient for him,” Ferraro says. “As far as Robin Gomez and Chris Ferraro are concerned, there’s nothing there.”

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