(Story by Jamie Neugebauer of the Toronto Lakeshore Patriots - photo credit: Jay Johnston/OJHL Images)
There is nothing extraordinary about a 20-year-old Ontario Junior Hockey League player making a trip to New York state to visit the campus of an NCAA university.
Yet Toronto Patriots forward Kevin Shier’s voyage this past weekend was anything but typical.
Shier, 20, was one of five men who together early Monday morning saved the life of 33-year-old New York State National Guardsman Timothy Neild whose pickup truck struck a concrete pillar on a bridge over a highway near the town of DeWitt, N.Y.
Shier, who was with his father, stopped at the scene after seeing smoke in the distance, despite the fact that he was on his way to one of the most important visits of his life.
“It’s pretty surreal to be honest,” said the Toronto native, “it didn’t really feel like it happened.
“We just kind of slowed down to see what it was. My dad asked if we should stop; then I said ‘yes’. You see people doing things like that on the news, but you never think it’s going to happen to you but obviously I’m glad we stopped and helped out.”
The five, including two American lawyers and another National Guardsman, pried open the stuck truck door while flames engulfed the unconscious Neild, and Kevin, together with another man, ultimately pulled the soldier well out of harm’s way.
Unbeknownst to all of them was that the truck would explode a mere 30 seconds later.
“It all happened so quickly,” Shier said over the phone, “it really felt like a dream.
“All I kept remembering afterward was that a guy was giving him CPR and was yelling at him not to (expletive) die, telling him that he had done too much for his country to go like this. That guy really kept him alive because he was as white as a sheet and personally, I thought he had already passed. It really shook me.”
Firefighters and ambulances arrived soon after to take over - and Nield remains in serious condition at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, N.Y. - but the shaken Shier and his father continued on to the visit.
“It was obviously really fresh but I didn’t want the college guys to think I was different than I am,” Shier said.
“I am a really outspoken, happy guy and it was hard to show them the real me. I wasn’t hurt or anything, though my gloves got pretty badly singed and I plan on keeping them forever as a reminder, but it was a really hard trip as a result.”
The Toronto Patriots hockey club are exceedingly proud of Kevin’s actions and nobody would have questioned him if he had elected to take Wednesday night’s game against the Mississauga Chargers off.
Nevertheless, Kevin demonstrated another example of his strong character and not only played Wednesday but scored as the first-place Patriots cruised past the Chargers 7-1 and exuded the same class and elite talent that he has all season.
“I am fine really,” Shier said, “I had a couple of days to process and think about it and I’m really glad the guy is okay. It was kind of creepy. I thought he was dead, but I am really relieved that he’s being taken care of. He is the father of a young girl and his wife is pregnant, so it’s just pretty incredible that he survived.”
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, wearing the uniforms of police officers, doctors or firefighters.
This time, the hero was a simple hockey player