Before joining the Prince George Spruce Kings Justin Rai spent a lot time in the dark.
The 18-year-old forward suffered a concussion last season while playing hockey with the junior B Richmond Sockeyes.
"It was tough," said Rai. "I couldn't go to school for a bit. All you can do is just sit in the dark and wait until your head recovers. It's pretty stressful in not knowing when I'd be back.
"I wanted to go watch my team and help but I couldn't," he added. "It's probably the toughest injury I've been through."
The concussion occurred during practice when he collided with his best friend on the Sockeyes.
"It was just a drill where we both didn't have the puck and were looking and we kind of ran into each other," said the five-foot-10 and 170-pounder. "Unfortunately, he's six-foot-three, 230 [pounds] and he got the best of me."
At the time of the injury, Rai was in the top three in scoring in the league at Christmas and his prospects of cracking a junior A team looked good.
"I saw a lot on TV with NHL players," said Rai, who missed two months of action. "I didn't really think it was something that could occur in junior hockey.
Rai said it was difficult to get back into the game but his determination helped and he was able to turn a two-game tryout in September with the Spruce Kings into a permanent place in the lineup.
"I think mostly I grew as a person," said the Surrey native. "I went through some tough times in trying to make junior A and I just persevered. [Kings goalie] Kirk Thompson was a huge help. He's a big reason why I'm here today."
Rai (pronounced like rye bread) has six goals and 10 points in 13 games for the Spruce Kings this season. In 27 games with the Sockeyes last season, he produced 15 goals and 44 points.
Thompson said his friend often was overlooked growing up when they played high school hockey together due to his small stature.
"He finally grew," said Thompson. "Growing up being so small he had to learn how to play with the big boys. Hes extremely skilled and a very smart player. Hockey runs in his bloodlines."
He's a first cousin to Prab Rai, a 2008 fifth-round draft pick of the NHL Vancouver Canucks (171st overall). Prab signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Canucks in 2010 and currently plays in the ECHL.
Justin trains all summer with Prab and some of the Canucks players," said Thompson. "I knew he was trying extremely hard and he just didnt get the right bounces in terms of the BCHL so when I heard he was free I jumped all over getting him here.
Since joining the Spruce Kings, Rai has played on a line with Americans, Chad Staley and Jeremiah Luedtke, nicknamed the Cascade Express line after the train that travels from Surrey to Seattle through all their hometowns.
"We're all pretty fast and we get the job done and we've all got offensive skills," said Rai. "When we move our feet out there we're effective."
He said he takes some good-natured teasing from his American linemates but then he educates them about politics.
"They make fun of me for being Canadian and then they realize that most of the team is Canadian," he said. "They laugh because I know more about their government then they do sometimes. It's kind of funny. They didn't know who our prime minister was so they were surprised I knew who [President] Obama was."