BY JAMES COOK
TRAVERSE CITY — Trevor Franklin is hoping to play again this season.
For that to happen, he might need some help from his teammates.
The Traverse City West junior forward suffered a broken vertebrae in a November car crash and has a slight chance to play again this year — but a playoff run by the Titans would help those chances.
TC West coach Jeremy Rintala said Franklin's chances of playing again this season could depend on the length of a West post-season march.
Franklin was totally immobilized for three days after the Nov. 4 crash. Now, he wears a brace that extends from his neck down to his hips to help the L2 vertebrae's healing.
He gets out of the brace the day before Christmas — "a good Christmas present," he said — and has a checkup on Jan. 3.
If all goes well at that checkup, he could be cleared for some additional activity and then February would be up to Franklin's pain tolerance.
"Maybe then I can get back on the ice," he said. "Even to be able to get back on the ice would be nice. I'd be happy."
Franklin was a passenger in a friend's car that lost control, skidded through a ditch and went airborne before striking a tree. Franklin said rain, darkness, speed and poor tires contributed to the crash.
"What really shook me up is my little brother was supposed to go with us," Franklin said. "The officer told us we had a 9 out of 10 chance of dying. We basically escaped death."
Another TC West student, sophomore Dalton Mitchell, was in the front passenger's seat and broke the three bones in his hand and his patella. Mitchell said he thinks the airbag — which probably saved his life — broke the fingers and the knee injury was from hitting the underside of the dashboard.
"The officer said if the car was to hit another foot toward my side or another foot toward (the driver's) side, either one of us would be dead," Mitchell said. "I definitely learned my lesson from it."
"We were coming around the corner and that's all I remember," Franklin said. "I woke up in the back seat of the car and my head was slouched over ... tucked in between the seat and the side of the car where the seat belt would go. ... I woke up to (the driver) tapping my leg to make sure I was alive. Both those two were awake during it and I got knocked out."
"He lost consciousness for a couple minutes," Mitchell said of Franklin. "He didn't seem to be in too much pain in the ambulance. He just said, 'My back's a little sore.'"
Franklin had to be extracted through the rear window after first responders wouldn't let Franklin get out on his own.
"I don't really remember the ride that much," Franklin recalled of the ambulance ride. "I just remember them hooking us up to IVs. ... It was like a movie. In some movies, they show scenes of people riding on stretchers and looking at all the lights. I just remember looking up and seeing all the lights."
Mitchell, a center and defensive tackle on the junior varsity football team this season, hopes to make a full recovery in time for lacrosse season.
The two were put in the same hospital room and West had a day off that Monday, so visitors flooded into the hospital.
"Sixty or 70 kids visited us," Franklin said. "I don't really remember anything. I was passed out, sleeping. What I do remember is waking up, and my neighbor Cy (Shoemaker), he's only 6 years old and he brought me balloons and one of them was a turtle. There was about 20 people in our room and I remember waking up and saying, 'Does everybody like my turtle?' and everybody laughed and then I fell back asleep."
"That was devastating," said West teammate Jake Saxton. "I went up to see him the day after. He was pretty beat up. It was pretty tough seeing him in bed there. He couldn't move."
The 16-year-old right wing is back on his feet, which is something teammate Erik Anton is trying to do as well as he recovers from transverse myelitis at a hospital in Grand Rapids.
"I feel bad for him," Franklin said. "I know how it is being in that bed and not being able to move. Just my first time walking, I felt like a kid again."
Franklin gave up hockey for skiing years ago. He made West's team last year and was hoping to be a key contributor this season.
West junior John Linenger has known Franklin since seventh grade.
"It's definitely hurt our team for sure," Linenger said. "He's got that experience that we needed. Hopefully we'll be able to get him back by the end of the year. We can definitely use him."
Franklin said he tries to go to as many West practices and games as possible, but it's sometimes difficult. Aside from the brace being an intentionally tight fit, he'd be more comfortable on the ice than watching it.
"I try to, but it's just too hard for me to watch my teammates play and me not be able to," Franklin said. "They're giving me and Erik a lot of support. They came to visited me — every single one of them. Even the coaches. I remember (assistant coach) Bob Spence coming in before work around 6 a.m. and he had a great big smile on his face. It was really cool."