MILWAUKEE (WITI) — October 30th, 2009 was a life-changing day for Mike Liambas and Ben Fanelli. Their lives were forever changed after a hit in a Major League hockey game. Liambas is now working to reestablish his hockey career here in Milwaukee.
“I mean, (hockey) was a pretty big staple in my life — in my timeline of life. It was a tough thing to go through, but I imagine it would be tougher for the kid I hit,” Liambas said.
Liambas and Fanelli were opponents in the Ontario Hockey League.
The 16-year-old Fanelli suffered a fractured skull, facial lacerations and a serious brain injury from Liambas’ check.
“Every decision can change your life in the way your path goes. I’m here now because of the decisions I made. I don’t know where I would be if I made different decisions,” Liambas said.
Liambas was suspended by the OHL. After a rookie camp stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t work out, Liambas went to play at the University of British Columbia.
“I knew I wanted to get away from everything. I wanted to see if I still loved the game after that happened and everything I had been put through. I wanted to do some soul-searching, and that’s what I did,” Liambas said.
His soul-searching led him back to the professional game.
After UBC’s season wrapped up, he played parts of three seasons for Cincinnati in the East Coach Hockey League before being called up to the Admirals.
“People recognize that one incident doesn’t make who he is as a player or a person. People change and people get better. Mike learned from that situation and got better,” Admirals Head Coach Dean Evason said.
“At first, I definitely thought my hockey career was over, but if I didn’t have the support of my family and friends — I probably would have just self-destructed without that support. I don’t think one moment can define anyone’s life, because you always have a chance to respond to that moment in a good way or a bad way. It depends on the person,” Liambas said.
After almost two years of rehab, Fanelli made a full recovery. He finished his junior career with the Rangers in May.
Liambas and Fanelli haven’t crossed paths since the incident.
“It was just best to take it one step a day towards getting that black cloud away from my name. It was hanging there for years I’d say, and getting the call last year to come (to Milwaukee) was probably the biggest step forward for me — realizing, you know, that I still have a career. I can still do this,” Liambas said.