Nothing was going to keep Emily Antony from her fifth and final season of college hockey.
The Minnesota State Mankato senior has been through plenty over her hockey career, enough that she’s a bit of a curiosity.
Twice since her senior year in high school, Antony has had to re-learn how to walk after suffering paralysis in her lower body. She also had multiple hip surgeries and an appendectomy that contributed to her missing the majority of her junior season. She received a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA for that year, allowing her this fifth season.
“I’m literally a medical mystery,” said Antony, who said she’s also suffered six broken arms and passed 10 kidney stones in her 23 years. “But I was determined to come back for a fifth year.”
Minnesota State opened its nonconference series Friday against Rensselaer in Troy, New York.
Antony will be on the ice on the Mavericks’ top forward line, wearing the C as one of the team’s captains.
“She’s been through everything with this team,” said sophomore defender Anna Wilgren, Antony’s road-trip roommate. “And with all she’s been through, she keeps coming back. She battles back. That’s the type of teammate I want to have.”
After being granted the extra season of eligibility, Antony added a second major to her academic load. She’s studying exercise science and psychology and is minoring in sports medicine. She plans on going to graduate school for physical therapy.
Those interests were, in part, inspired by her own rehabilitation needs.
Playing for the Minnesota Revolution AAA team prior to attending Minnesota State, Antony went back-first into the boards during a game at Shattuck-St. Mary’s and ended up paralyzed from the waist down. Doctors called it “a spinal concussion,” and feeling started to return to her toes about a week later.
“I had to use a walker and learn to walk again,” she said.
Walking wasn’t going to be enough for Antony. She was going to keep playing hockey, too, and honor her commitment to Minnesota State.
“I told my dad, ‘This isn’t the end. I’m going to come back. I’m going to play,’” Antony said.
Antony played 36 games as a freshman at Minnesota State during coach John Harrington’s first season. She had six goals and 16 points, the latter still a career-high.
The second time Antony lost feeling was during her sophomore year at Minnesota State, following a seven-goal, 14-point season. She wasn’t on the ice at the time, and a teammate had to take her to the hospital.
“That came out of nowhere,” she said, again calling herself “a medical mystery.”
The second incident delayed a scheduled hip surgery, and a later appendectomy led to some other complications, and her junior season was shuttered after 10 games.
“It took months of therapy, but I knew I would fight through it,” she said.
Last season, Antony played in 30 games, scoring two goals and assisting on 11 others for 13 points, giving her 48 points in 108 career games.
“For all those things she’s been through, they haven’t affected her hand skills or her thinking skills,” Harrington said.
“As far as her feel for the game and thinking of the game, no one is better on our team. We need her production; we need her to produce. She can make plays. She can see things developing. She has great vision for the game.”
Antony was also determined to return to the Mavericks to see through a program turnaround. The Mavericks had three wins during her freshman year and were 9-19-7 last season, finishing out of last place in the WCHA for the first time since 2014 and avoiding a 20-loss season for the first time since 2009.
“Just looking back at what the program was like when I came here ... it’s exciting to see the progress that’s been made,” Antony said. “I’d like to say, ‘Yeah, I went to that program, and I helped make a difference.’”
Shane Frederick is sports editor for the Mankato, Minnesota, Free Press