CANTON — Potsdam native Dakota Ford is getting closer to making an amazing comeback.
Ford, who is 22, nearly died on July 17, 2016, after being injured in an ATV accident in Potsdam. He suffered a brain injury and his condition was so serious that some of his friends left condolences to his family on his Facebook page.
Upon arriving at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, Vermont, after the accident, Ford was given a 3 percent chance of surviving by his medical team.But now, about 15 months later, Ford has healed to the point where he is ready to resume his hockey career and will be a freshman defenseman for the SUNY Canton Kangaroos this season.
At the time of the accident, Ford was a Clarkson University recruit and expecting to play for the Golden Knights during the 2016-17 season.
Instead he spent the year as an unofficial part of the team, going to all the games, wearing the customary suit and tie every player who is not dressed for a game wears.
The accident altered his Clarkson plans, as Ford was not ready to play at the NCAA Division I level when this season began. Instead, he moved to the neighboring town and will play for former Clarkson defenseman Alex Boak, who is in his second year coaching the Kangaroos.
"Right now we are taking it really slow with him," Boak said. "We are not too sure if he's going to play in the first half or not, because we don't want to rush anything.
"We are skating with him in small groups and he's kind of hopping in, in practice, kind of just helping us push pucks, learning the system, stuff like that. He's not doing drills in practice right now.
"If we have him in the second half, great, if we don't, we keep getting him better and better and healthy. We want to get him here and help him out, and I think he's buying into that process as well."
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Ford, who is 6-2, 185 pounds, has not played a full, competitive hockey game since April 22, 2016. He estimated that he is about 70 percent of the way back on his way to returning to full strength.
"I spent four months alone, basically, at my house — to be a part of a team, to be around a group of guys was good," Ford said of last year at Clarkson. "It was a long summer. It was a big change going from Clarkson to SUNY Canton, there was a lot of mental stuff, a lot of adjusting. Once I got over here, Boaker took care of me. I was using the ice all summer long, skating with a group of local guys.
"I'm hoping to just do my best, get back into shape. There's no promises with what's happened in my past. I'm going to do my best to get back into shape and hopefully I can contribute to the team. I played a little men's league last year, but that's a different speed than college hockey at any level."
Ford left the area before the 2010-11 season, playing two years at the Gunnery School, then two more seasons with the Junior Islanders Hockey Club in the Eastern Junior Hockey League.
He played with the Nepean Raiders in 2014-15, and his last season was with the New Jersey Junior Titans in 2015-16.
"I think he can bring a lot," Boak said. "He is a big guy, he takes up a lot of space. He was a really good player, not saying he's not now, but he was committed to Clarkson for a reason. I think if we can get him back to where he was that he can be a huge help, being a leader on the back end, being that guy back there that can be relied upon. I think that can be huge for us.
"He's a solid all-around defenseman. He's a big guy and he can wrap people up down low. What I've seen this week, skating with him for the first time, is that he can be offensive. He has some skill to his game for sure."
Whenever Ford does suit up with the Kangaroos for the first time, he knows he is in the right place.
"I walked in the (office) door and I looked to my left and instantly (Boak's) words took me in and then school started and it just kind of felt right," Ford said. "I feel right at home."
Ford will pay tribute to a former area player this season by wearing No. 7, the number formerly worn by Potsdam native Cory Bercume, who died when he was 21 shortly after the 2010-11 SUNY Canton hockey season. Ford is the first player to wear the number since Bercume's passing.
This article is written by Cap Carey from Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.