Courtney Patten, an eighth-grader from Mundelein who plays for the elite-level Chicago Mission U14 hockey team, was trying to stop at the end of the drill on Sept. 18 during a practice at Seven Bridges Ice Arena in Woodridge.
Her skate got caught in a divot on the ice and, since she was close to the goal line at the time, she went directly into the boards, headfirst.
Her world changed forever that day.
An ambulance rushed to the rink. Her mom, Judy, couldn't see the fluke accident from where she was sitting.
Doctors ultimately determined Courtney had a broken neck, as she broke her C2 vertebrae.
She turned 14 five days later, on Sept. 23, still in the hospital. Patrick Kane and Eddie Olczyk visited that day. They learned about her injury through word-of-mouth in the hockey community, said her dad, Ken. She was "really shocked" by their visit, Ken Patten said.
"I did not expect that at all," Courtney said.
Olczyk brought a Blackhawks jersey with her number (28) and last name on it.
Kane hand-delivered an autographed jersey.
Two days later, Courtney was on the operating table for a four-hour surgery and doctors put a screw in her neck.
Patten, who attends West Oak Middle School in Mundelein, is now on the road to recovery, eyeing a return to the ice sometime in 2013. She plans to play again next season.
"Hopefully," said the left-handed shooting defenseman.
Patten now wears a neck brace, which she couldn't remove for the first 12 weeks. She has since been able to remove the brace progressively more, and hopefully will have it off for good by later this month.
"I've gotten used to (the neck brace), so it doesn't really bug me anymore," said Courtney, who spent about 10 days in the hospital after the accident.
Patten's injury has resonated around hockey rinks nationally, not just locally. She has received autographed jerseys from the women's teams at the University of Wisconsin and Northeastern University, plus the Miami (Ohio) men's team. Stevenson graduate Megan Bozek, a Buffalo Grove native who now stars for the University of Minnesota, gave Patten an autographed stick.
Many local players wear a black-and-red "28 Courtney" sticker in support of Patten on their helmets, especially at Stevenson, where her brother, Trevor, is a junior in his first season on the Patriots' varsity.
Courtney is in the stands for many of her Mission games and also for Stevenson games to support Trevor, a lefty-shooting center. She often is talking like a coach from high above the ice surface.
"During games, I try not to think about it too much, but it's always in the back of my head, 'What if I fall in a weird way? That could happen to me, too,' " Trevor said. "At first, it was really hard, shocking. You never really think something like this is going to happen to your family."
Trevor wrote his sister's initials on the blade of his stick.
"The (Stevenson) team has been really supportive," said Trevor, who notes that he often has received simple text messages just to see if he or his family needs anything.
Courtney, whose favorite Blackhawk is Jonathan Toews, said watching games from the stands, "makes me want to get back (on the ice) and play."
In the meantime, her brother plays -- and prays for his kid sister. He knows his role: to be the loving brother in a trying time.
"We are closer now," he said, "more so (than before the accident)."