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    January 27, 2023 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    Accompanied by Club Sports coaches and support staff, Liberty University’s ACHA Division I men’s hockey team traveled to Roanoke’s Carilion Clinic as a group on Monday to cover Flames graduate forward Josh Fricks in prayer. Less than three days earlier, Fricks fractured the C-4 and C-5 vertebrae in his lower neck while checking a UNLV player into the boards in the first period of Friday night’s game at the LaHaye Ice Center (LIC). He was airlifted to Roanoke before undergoing a five-hour surgery on Saturday morning.

    While at the hospital, rotations of four team members visited Fricks in his ICU room and demonstrated the power of unity and faith within the Liberty Hockey family, showering him with the love of Christ, and his fiancée, Allison Fenske, with flowers.

    Fricks and Handy share a thumbs-up moment on Thursday night in Roanoke.

    “That was fantastic,” Liberty Head Coach Kirk Handy said. “It was emotional, but it was therapeutic at the same time. We all need to go there, to see him, to look him in the eye and tell him that we’re 100-percent behind him and he’s not going to have to walk alone in this process.”

    Since then, the university community as a whole — led by Campus Pastor Jonathan Falwell and members of the LU Shepherd staff — has rallied around Fricks, lifting him up in prayer during Wednesday morning’s Convocation at the Vines Center and putting together a special video aired before that night’s Campus Community service.

    “It’s been a challenging week for Josh, first and foremost, and then for our guys, but the university has been awesome,” Handy said. “Pastor Falwell has been in touch with us and the Shepherd’s Office, led by Dr. David Wheeler, PJ Preston, and Doug Damon, have been fantastic with us. (Former Club Sports Ministry Director) Brian Davidson, who’s around our guys all of the time, is phenomenal. We’re very, very blessed with support and resources around us.”

    Club Sports Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Medicine Angie Witt credited Fricks for remaining calm in the immediate aftermath of the injury, which allowed her, Assistant Director of Sports Medicine Josh Smith, and Dr. Mark Rolfes, a Liberty Associate Professor of Sports Medicine, to do their best to follow the emergency action plan to assure his safe transition to a scoop stretcher.

    “We practice those scenarios all the time but pray we never have to use them,” Witt said. “That was the first time I’ve had to deal with an incident of paralysis on the ice, and it was scary for sure, but everything just seemed to go right, and I am grateful for that. The Lord was holding our hands while we were holding Josh.”

    Witt said the part of the neck Fricks fractured is responsible for the expansion and contraction of the diaphragm, so she was thankful the injury didn’t impede his breathing.

    “It could have been a lot worse,” she said. “I talked to Fricks and thanked him for being so calm. I don’t know if he trusted us or he was just so scared, or if it was the presence of the Holy Spirit calming his nerves. He trusted us and knew we were qualified to take care of him. He may have been scared on the inside, but he did not show it on the outside. He relaxed so we could do our job, and that was a huge part of the success we had. One false move on our part could have made things worse.”

    Fricks and Fenske share a hug standing in front of his ICU bed in Roanoke.

    Fricks has made steady strides in his recovery, moving his left arm hours after the surgery and rising to his feet multiple times, most recently standing without a helping hand.

    “Kirk and I were so amazed tonight by Josh’s progress,” Handy’s wife, Jannie, wrote on her Instagram page after visiting Fricks on Thursday night. “The LU hockey team has rallied alongside of Josh all along the way and we are praising God for what He is doing in and through Josh’s life. (He is) a fighter. God is so good, and prayer is amazing.”

    Fenske has started an Instagram page, @joshy’s.journey, to provide updates on Fricks’ recovery and rehabilitation process, as well as her personal insights.

    “When I packed Josh’s things up for him while he was on the helicopter, I packed his Bible,” she wrote. “Reading through the Scriptures about the Apostle Paul and all he went through brought so much more peace than I could have had on my own. This whole situation shifted my perspective completely. My best friend is still with me and … so many people have had their eyes opened to truth because of him and his faith has made others stronger. My heart is filled with so much joy. This boy is shocking everyone on staff here. He is so motivated. He woke up (Tuesday) morning and said, ‘I wanna walk.’ And he did.”

    Ray Fricks offers the prayer before Saturday’s ‘Midnight Mayhem’ rematch with UNLV at the LaHaye Ice Center. (Photo by Natalie Olson)

    That video clip was played at Convocation the following morning after Flames forward Kris Bladen’s interview with Fricks, who showed his left-side movement, was played and Fricks’ father, Ray, offered the prayer prior to Saturday’s Midnight Mayhem rematch.

    “The university’s support has been awesome and the care that they’ve given us and the love that they’ve shown us has been awesome,” Kirk Handy said. “The Fricks family has been unbelievable, Josh and his mom and dad, they just want to use everything that’s going on here for God’s glory, and answer in an awful situation, how can we take what’s meant for evil and turn it into a good?”

    Witt said the recovery Fricks has made after successful surgery has been remarkable, and evidence of the effectiveness of prayer.

    “He’s definitely on the way to recovery,” Witt said. “He is progressing well at this time and does have some movement back in all of his extremities. We’ll just wait to see what the Lord does. The plan is to move him to the Shepherd Center, an acute rehab facility in Atlanta, for the next 50-70 days in order to strengthen his body and allow him to heal under the supervision of some of the best doctors and physical therapists in the country.”

    “We love the Fricks family,” Davidson added. “You know that he’ll put everything into that rehab and have a great support system.”

    Fricks and Fenske are due to be married on May 20, one week after participating in Liberty’s Commencement exercises on May 11-13. Davidson was scheduled to start premarital counseling with the couple next week.

    “It’s a lot to go through and we talked to him about being intentional not to ask ‘Why?’ or “What if?” but to focus more on “What?” and “How?” Davidson said. “What does God have for me today? How am I to use my situation to bring Him glory today? What does that look like? That’s, I think, more positive and brings answers and direction, rather than ‘Why?’”

    In light of Fricks’ injury, which added to Liberty’s list of unavailable players due to injury or suspensions after the Midnight Mayhem loss to UNLV, the Flames opted to postpone this weekend’s scheduled trip to former ESCHL rival Stony Brook to give players time to recuperate emotionally and spiritually.

    “Our No. 1 responsibility is not hockey right now,” Handy said. “It is to make sure our players and our staff are in a good spot mentally, can process what happened … and that everyone — from players and coaches to other staff, is able to have someone there to talk to. We’re trying to get through each day here. We’re working on soul care with them right now.”

    The Flames (13-9-1), who remained at No. 5 in this week’s ACHA DI national rankings, will return to action at the LIC next Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 1 p.m. when they host No. 2 Adrian College.

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer

    Members of Liberty’s Division I men’s hockey team and Club Sports staff gather in the lobby of the Carilion Clinic in Roanoke during their visit on Tuesday.