Back on March 6th it was reported that former Texas Tornado player Billy Skwarczewski was in “extremely critical condition” after being struck by a drunk driver as he crossed the street. A lot has happened in Billy’s life in just over two months since the accident and I can happily report that “Big Billy” is well on his way to a full recovery from the major injuries he suffered that night.
Billy was a big, physical presence on the ice who was wildly cheered by the hometown faithful and feared by opposing players who dared take a run at anyone in a Tornado sweater. That is not to say that Billy was a goon or a headhunter on the ice, far from it. He had some skills and could play the game. Those skills were on display during the Tornado’s run up to the 2006 Robertson Cup Championship when he scored 4G – 3A in 13 post season games. Skwarczewski did not go onto the ice looking for a fight, but it you were foolish enough to take liberties with a teammate or challenge him, you better be ready to dance. Young Mr. Skwarczewski has proven his toughness once again by kicking this accident’s butt, just as he did with so many NAHL “tough guys”.
I had a chance to set down with Billy and his family for a brief visit this week and was amazed at his recovery. Despite internal injuries and numerous broken bones, including his pelvis, Billy was up walking with just a slight hint of a limp. The only other outward indication of his injuries was when he was a bit deliberate when getting up out of a chair. He quickly shrugged this off as he joked “I’m getting old.”
Billy’s mother Sheila recounted how the doctors expressed concerns that he possibly would not make it through that first night. He had suffered some major injuries and nobody is certain just how long Billy had been lying in the road before a passing motorist found him there. One thing is certain, doctors told the family that had Billy not been found when he was “he would have soon bled to death”. “I still cringe every time I hear a siren” said Sheila. “Even if he is setting here in the house.” She also recounted how she now goes out of here way when leaving their neighborhood to avoid the intersection where the accident occurred.
As word of the accident began to surface it spread rapidly through the hockey community proving once again that hockey is not just a sport it is a family. It had been almost a decade since Billy had last skated for the NAHL Robertson Cup Champion Texas Tornado in Frisco, TX yet the former Tornado Booster Club and local fans sprang into action. Not only were countless prayers sent for a speedy recover, but there was an outpouring of desire to help in any way possible.
With the 2013/14 NAHL season quickly winding down a charity silent auction was hurriedly put together to help offset upcoming medical bills. Prior to the start of the season the Texas Tornado were sold and moved to North Richland Hills, TX and rebranded as the Lone Star Brahmas. The Brahmas final home series of the season was scheduled for the weekend of March 14 leaving less than a week to gather items for the auction. Donations rolled in from numerous individuals who knew Billy from his two seasons with the Tornado, the Lone Star Brahmas, the NAHL League Office, the local CHL Allen Americans, the NHL Dallas Stars and Dallas Stars players who likely had never even heard Billy’s name, but knew he was a hockey brother in need. The Brahmas graciously provided space in the NyTex Sports Centre lobby for the auction on opening night of the final home series as well as promoting the event.
In addition the Tornado Booster Club set up a Friends of Billy Skwarczewski Facebook Group that has grown to nearly 500 members. The Facebook group was tied to a YouCaring.com online donation site.
Billy received a lot of visits and phone calls from former teammates. “A lot of them came by while I was still out of it, but it is great knowing they were there,” he said. Billy’s fiancée Brittany was left to take the calls and messages on his phone. Many used nicknames in messages that they left leaving Brittany to try and decipher who the caller was as she passed along the information. Sheila laughed as she told of Brittany relaying a message from “Tommy the Train” after a call from former Tornado Captain Tom Train.
It has been just 10 weeks since the night of the accident and Billy has already made a remarkable recovery to this point. When asked if he thought he would ever play again, his response was quick and in true hockey player fashion, “I’m already pushing the doctors to release me to play”, to which his mom replied “you are not even supposed to be walking without crutches yet.” My money is on “Big Billy” having the skates laced up sooner rather than later.