Smiths Falls defenseman suffers spinal cord injury in EOJHL playoff action

Athens Aeros photo- Mac Spinelli will be in a neck brace for the next eight weeks after suffering a spinal cord injury in a wildcard hockey game on Feb. 27 against the Smiths Falls Jr. Bears in EOJHL play.
Posted on: March 6, 2024

Mac Spinelli of the Athens Aeros recovers in neck brace for 8 weeks


A Smiths Falls native, and defenseman for the Athens Aeros, has suffered a spinal cord injury against the Smiths Falls Jr. Bears in Eastern Ontario Junior Hockey League play.

Mac Spinelli, 19, was in Smiths Falls as the Aeros took on the Bears in a playoff wildcard game when he was checked from behind on Feb. 27 and “crashed violently into the boards fracturing two vertebrates in his neck along with a concussion,” a Facebook statement from the Aeros organization reads.

Mac’s mother, Jeanette Spinelli, said her son sustained two fractured vertebrae at the base of his neck, C-6 and C-7.

“Doctors conducted a number of scans and evaluations during which they determined the best course of action was not to have surgery at this time,” she stated. “The hope is that the two vertebrae will fuse together with help from a neck brace for several weeks, limiting further surgeries and possible complications. The next eight weeks are crucial to limiting long-term repercussions.”

This is Mac’s fourth concussion, and his family said it will prevent him from playing contact hockey ever again. 

The Bears player that checked Spinelli was given a game misconduct. 

Walt Dubas, former coach of the Smiths Falls Jr. A Bears, who later went on to help coach the Brockville Braves of the CCHL, said Spinelli was a neighbour in Smiths Falls for a time.

Dubas said checking from behind happens all too often and “should be eliminated from the game.”

It was during Dubas’ tenure with the Jr. A Bears, when one of his young charges suffered a spinal cord injury that left him a paraplegic.

On Dec. 13, 2014, at the age of 17, Neil Doef suffered a spinal cord injury that ended his hockey career. He was the leading scorer for the Bears, was a top prospect for the NHL watch list, and had participated in the World Jr. A Challenge as a member of Team Canada East’s U18 team that same year where he was injured in an on-ice collision.

Neil went on to Princeton University, and graduated in 2021 with a degree in economics. Just last year, he won a court battle with Hockey Canada and its insurance company, AIG Insurance Company of Canada. Now 27, he has regained some of his mobility but will always have medical needs

In 2013 in Perth during playoff hockey in the EOJHL, the Shawville Pontiacs defenseman Brent Nugent, now 29, suffered a spinal cord injury that paralyzed him after an awkward hit from behind.

Spinelli has been with the Aeros for three seasons, coming from the Smiths Falls U18 AAA Bears. Prior to that, he played three seasons for the Rideau St. Lawrence AA Kings. With the Aeros, he accumulated three goals and 12 assists in the 2023/24 season.

Jeanette added, “We want to thank the Aeros’ organization, fellow teammates, our first responders, family and friends for their ongoing support. We wish everyone still playing a safe playoff journey and want to remind you that there is more to life than just the game of hockey.”

Smiths Falls went on to defeat Athens 3-0 in that game and won the wildcard series to meet Carleton Place Jr. Canadians in the Richardson Division semi-finals.

As of production, the Jr. Bears were down 2-1 with Game 4 on March 7 m Smiths Falls at 7:30 p.m. Game five will be held March 9 in Carleton Place at 7:30 p.m.

If needed: Game 6 in Smiths Falls, March 10 at 5:30 p.m.; Game 7, Carleton Place, March 12, 7:15 p.m.

In the Martin Division, it’s Ottawa West Golden Knights vs. the Embrun Panthers in the best of seven series.

Trish Krotki
Author: Trish Krotki