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John Marshall's Camden Williams fought through broken neck, thumb to finish his hockey career on the ice

Camden Williams battled hard to recover from one severe injury, a broken neck, to get back to the sports he loves. Now, he's had to battle back from another injury and returns in time for sections.

John Marshall vs. Highland Park Boys Hockey
John Marshall's Camden Williams (6) battles for the puck during a boys hockey game against St. Paul Highland Park on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021, at the Rochester Recreation Center.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

ROCHESTER — Camden Williams would gladly describe the events of Jan. 23, 2022, if he could remember them.

Williams, then a junior at John Marshall High School and a member of the Rockets boys hockey team, remembers going skiing with some friends at Welch Village. Then he remembers spending a day or two in the hospital and the next three months in a neck brace.

Most of those days in late January last year are still a blur to Williams, who is now less than four months from becoming a John Marshall graduate.

“Apparently I fell going down a hill,” Williams said of the ski accident that resulted in a broken neck and a severe concussion, “and I basically slid into a water pipe. I don’t remember much of it.”

What Williams does remember — between the discomfort of wearing a neck brace and concussion symptoms that lingered for close to a month — is a desire to get back around his friends and teammates, both on the JM hockey team and its boys soccer team.


So Williams followed doctors’ orders, with hopes of returning to the sports he loves as quickly and as safely as possible.

He was able to get back on the pitch approximately halfway through his spring club team’s soccer season, then play a full season for JM last fall, as the Rockets had a spectacular 12-3-2 record and placed third in the Big Nine Conference.

Century, John Marshall boys soccer
John Marshall’s Camden Williams makes a save during a boys soccer game against Century on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, at Century High School in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

JM hockey coach Matt Erredge wondered at times if Williams, a big, powerful forward who thrives on physical play, would want to return to the ice and deliver crunching checks, with the neck injury still lingering in his mind.

“Most people who had the kind of injury ‘Willy’ had last year probably just don’t come back and play,” Erredge said. “But once he finished his soccer season, I asked him what he thought and he said ‘I want to play.’

“We welcomed him back, were very happy to have him. He’s a senior and a big guy who provides some jam, he provides some of that sandpaper (grit), which we like to have.”

Williams was off to a strong start this winter as a leader for the Rockets’ hockey team, with three goals and two assists through the first eight games. Then, on Dec. 29, the second game of the Kiwanis Festival, he dropped to block a shot by a New Richmond (Wis.) player. The shot hit Williams directly on his thumb, hard enough that not even the padded glove could protect him.

A trip to the doctor resulted in exactly what Williams expected and feared: His thumb was broken, requiring four metal pins to be placed — and six-to-eight weeks of rest — to help it heal. Another season-ending injury, he thought.

“It’s been really frustrating, over the past two years, I haven’t been able to play a full season’s worth of games,” Williams said. “I’ve been around practices and the team, but it’s hard to go watch and wish that you could be out there playing.”


While Williams remained around the team, helping at practices and on game days in whatever way possible, it was obvious to his teammates how much he missed being on the ice.

“It’s tough to see a teammate like him go out a couple years in a row for long periods of time,” JM goalie and fellow senior Cody Vlasaty said. “He’s always been a joy to the team, on and off the ice, if he’s playing or not. He’s always there, he’s been in the locker room, talking with us, doing whatever anyone needs, filling up water bottles and just making sure everyone’s good.”

While Williams filled water bottles and healed, supported his teammates and continued to rest his thumb, he and the Rockets received a pleasant surprise at the end of January: He was cleared to get back on the ice.

He began to go through all the practice drills he could approximately a week before JM hosted Austin — on Feb. 7 — for Senior Night. And during John Marshall’s 5-1 win at the Rec Center that night, Williams skated his first two shifts since dropping to block a shot on Dec. 29.

“That meant a lot,” he said. “I was really excited to be able to play in that game, to get to play a sport I really love, it felt amazing.”

It meant just as much to his coaches and teammates.

“To have him play when he’s still on the cusp of not being 100 percent, it’s a testament to the kind of guy he is,” Erredge said. “We kind of looked around that night like ‘he’s really doing it.’ Playing on Senior Night was important to him, and if it’s important to him, then it’s important to the rest of us. I was happy to see him out there. He’s a great kid, always smiling and working so hard. We missed having that around.”

John Marshall vs. Highland Park Boys Hockey
John Marshall's Camden Williams (6) fights for the puck during a boys hockey game against Highland Park Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021, at the Rochester Recreation Center.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Williams, who has never played in a section hockey playoff game, has every intention of being on the ice — if not for a regular shift, then for some spot-duty — in Thursday’s Section 1AA quarterfinals, when JM plays at rival Mayo, at 7 p.m.


Then it’s onto club soccer season in the spring, and hopefully college soccer in the fall, though Williams has yet to finalize those plans. For now, he’s focused on enjoying however much time he has left in high school hockey. And he’s grateful to have however many days he gets on the ice with his teammates.

“He’ll be the first to tell you that he’s never been a finesse guy,” Erredge said of Williams, “He’s a pretty physical player; he won’t be able to be quite as physical as he’s used to, but he enjoys that part of hockey.

“He’s going to forecheck hard no matter what, and he’ll get the puck in (to the offensive zone), then go to work. He’ll make some passes, make some plays. That’s what he does.”

Jason Feldman is the sports editor of the Post Bulletin. In addition to managing the four-person sports staff at the PB, Jason covers high school football, golf and high school and junior hockey. Readers can reach Jason at 507-281-7430 or jfeldman@postbulletin.com.
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