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Druley: Recovery from back injury leads Marmion's Plotz to hockey

Even after leaping for a pass left his back tangled and his body in pain, Eric Plotz jumped at the chance to play sports again.

The Marmion junior from Geneva fought the instincts of every injured athlete. His ability to win that bout helped him return to competition.

Plotz suffered a stress fracture in his back after he was hit during the second game of the Marmion sophomores’ 2011 football season, but played and practiced with discomfort for the next few days. His parents, Rick and Kelli, recommended their son see a doctor, a path that eventually led Plotz to rest and rebuilding, his ultimate road to recovery.

“It kind of [stunk] at the time, but it eventually got better,” Plotz said. “You realize now that if you had risked it then, you really could have had serious problems for the rest of your life.”

Sports medicine physician Dr. Jeff Mjaanes of Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush University Medical Center must feel his ears burning. His biggest challenge with Plotz, who since has opted for club hockey over football, was stressing the importance of physical therapy without shortcuts. It’s the same thing for teenagers nationwide.

Mjaanes hopes the message is getting somewhere; it’s been a driving force of recent youth sports injury prevention seminars at regional high schools. The most recent, held Wednesday night at Naperville North, featured former Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, whose career was cut short by a concussion in 2010.

“If you ignore those calls, if you ignore those signs of pain with action or certain positions, eventually Mother Nature is going to throw up her hands and say, ‘This guy doesn’t want his body to heal,’ ” Mjannes said. “She’s going to give up.”

Plotz’s injury was not correctable by surgery, so he relied heavily on physical therapy and core-building workouts to get back into shape. Plank exercises – holding an unnatural position (often the push-up position) for an extended duration – were most effective.

A full recovery led him back to hockey, his longtime love, in late March. Plotz has played the sport since he was 5, and at first used football as a way to stay in shape. These days, he feels no discomfort as a banging, 6-foot-3, 190-pound defenseman for the Fox Valley Ice Arena-based Geneva Cyclones.

“Initially, it was just a little bit of back pain. I didn’t think anything of it,” Plotz said.

If there’s a next time, he’ll know better.

Huskies on ice: Another Fox Valley Ice Arena tenant, the Northern Illinois University club team, is set to begin its first season at the Geneva rink with a game against Robert Morris University at 7:30 tonight.

NIU spent its past five American Collegiate Hockey Association seasons at Leafs Ice Centre in West Dundee before several circumstances triggered a move.

Tickets cost $6 for adults, $4 for college and high school students and $2 for children. NIU students presenting an ID are admitted free.

• Kevin Druley is a sports writer for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or

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