Derek Johnstone, seen here celebrating a gold medal with the Whitehorse Atom Mustangs last year, successfully underwent surgery in Vancouver following an injury during a hockey game in Whitehorse. (Submitted photo/Yukon News)

Yukon hockey community rallies around injured coach

‘It’s really helping Derek’s spirits. It’s just terrific’

Local hockey coach Derek Johnstone is recovering from surgery in Vancouver following a neck injury during a recreational hockey league game in Whitehorse on Feb. 17.

Johnstone collided with a teammate and fell to the ice, aggravating a pre-existing but unknown injury. He was transported to Vancouver via air ambulance where he underwent surgery at Vancouver General Hospital.

Rajan Johnstone, Derek’s wife, said he was transferred to a rehab centre on March 1.

“He’s doing better and better every day,” said Rajan. “It’s just a day-to-day thing now.”

The focus now shifts to regaining strength and building muscle.

“He’s got a schedule from nine to four that they’re going to be working with him,” said Rajan. “It’s just a slow process.”

The GoFundMe page — organized to help support Rajan and facilitate their children, Jase and Sohaani, travelling back and forth to Vancouver — has raised more than $16,500 as of March 1, something that doesn’t surprise his Peewee Mustangs assistant coach Michael Tuton.

“For a guy like Derek who has been around as long as he has, and has done what he has done in hockey … it’s surprising but it’s not surprising. That shows the community we live in,” said Tuton. “I’ve seen it happen before when somebody goes down, everybody in the community is there to help pick them up.”

Rajan agreed.

“It’s just overwhelming,” said Rajan. “I don’t have words to explain it. I just don’t know how to thank everybody and everybody has just been terrific.”

Tuton said the Mustangs were on the ice the day after the injury and the team had a chance to talk about what was happening.

“We had a good chat about it. These are 12-year-old kids and a lot of them had the same coaches for the last four years so it was shocking to them,” said Tuton. “A lot of them didn’t know what was going on and were obviously scared and concerned for their coach.”

The team put together a video message for Derek and began preparing for the B.C. provincial championships.

“From there we’ve just put our heads back down and started going to work.”

Tuton said there is a fundraiser family and friends can attend set for March 10 here in Whitehorse.

Invitations for the event have already started to circulate, but Tuton said the support has been fantastic.

“He’s a well-known figure in the hockey community, so there are just a ton of people stepping up that want to help Derek and the family out,” said Tuton.

“We’re having a little gathering at Casa Loma and we’ve had a ton of local sponsors step up and donate various items for auction. Anything and everything they could do, they’ve been stepping up for him.”

Rajan said she and her family are grateful for the way the community has reacted.

“I’d just like to thank everyone for the support that they’re giving us,” said Rajan. “It’s really helping Derek’s spirits. It’s just terrific.”

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

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