After brain tumor scare, Urbani back in net

“I was scared,” remembers Urbani. “I didn’t know if it was a tumor regrowing or if it was other complications going on, and then another incident happened.”

Daniel Urbani missed the entire 2018-2019 season with complications of a brain injury. He is back on the ice this year and has two starts under his belt. Photo courtesy of GoGriffs.com

Daniel Urbani’s stick broke during practice on Thursday, trying to clear a puck out of the defensive zone during a special teams drill. After the drill ended, he briefly left the ice, and freshman goaltender Jacob Barczewski replaced him for the next drill until Urbani returned with a new stick.

The brief hiatus from practice for Urbani was harmless, if anything it was slightly inconvenient, because goalie sticks cost a lot of money; but a brief problem like that is nothing compared to the situation that held the all-conference hopeful goaltender out for the entirety of his junior season. 

Urbani was diagnosed with Hydrocephalus in the summer of 2018, caused by a brain tumor that was blocking fluid from getting to his brain. The diagnosis and resulting procedures sidelined the goaltender for the entire season, and his road to recovery finally hit its climax when he suited up and started his first game for the team since his sophomore year for their exhibition game against the United States U18 Development Team on October 27.

“Obviously that’s not something you want to take in, as a 22-year-old. I thought I was this invincible guy,” said Urbani. He recalled how the process began in February of 2018, studying in the library with teammates; he felt dizzy and passed out after standing up too quickly. “I had events previous indicating those signs, like a bit of vertigo, but nothing to that extent, so it was off to Buffalo General Hospital that night.”  

At Buffalo General, Urbani was diagnosed with a heart issue, but visits to a cardiologist the day after were positive, and it seemed everything was normal with his heart. 

“It was pretty much business as usual after that, and I just played through it. When I went back home to Vancouver in the summer, it continued, I had headaches nonstop.” 

He passed out again while at lunch with his brother, and he was this time taken to Vancouver General Hospital, where he received the brain tumor diagnosis, with the condition being labeled as Hydrocephalus. 

Hydrocephalus is characterized by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons as, “a condition where excess fluid builds up in the ventricles of the brain and may increase pressure on the head.” The condition is most common in infants and pubescent age young adults and teens, because the brain is growing so much during this time frame. Urbani’s tumor compounded the pre-existing problem, as he said his tumor had likely been slowly growing since he was a child.

An operation was done to remove the tumor, and Urbani says that it was “99.9% removed.” In the hospital recovering during the NHL playoffs, the goaltender said he had trouble remembering the scores after the games finished, and that was one of the important things to work on while recovering. 

Eventually he returned to Canisius to begin working out and practicing with the team, but the symptoms returned. 

“I was scared,” remembers Urbani. “I didn’t know if it was a tumor regrowing or if it was other complications going on, and then another incident happened.” 

He recalls having trouble going up and down the stairs at his house, and he felt something was definitely wrong. 

After a trip to Hamilton General Hospital, just over the border in Canada, Urbani was informed that the incisions made in the first operation so that fluid could pass had closed up, which Urbani pointed out that “really what happened is that my body healed itself.” He underwent yet another operation, which involved placing a “shunt” inside his head. This goes from his head to his neck, into the collarbone and down to his stomach, and Urbani described it as “a pretty small procedure compared to everything else.” 

With all of this going on, he was forced to miss last hockey season. Head coach Trevor Large said losing his number one goaltender was “crushing.” Large found out that Urbani wouldn’t be available to the team right at the beginning of the year, and his immediate concern was making sure his player was alright, but naturally the plan for the team’s season changed because of the news. 

“You think about him first, and you make sure that he is going to be okay. He is a very serious hockey player, it’s something he’s passionate about and is committed to, so the next thing is to think about hockey.” 

Coming into a season where Canisius was the preseason coaches poll favorite, there were high expectations for the team with a lot of talent and experience. “It was a big challenge to overcome emotionally, and obviously physically,” Large said. “but it was the hardest on Dan, because he was going through an absolutely really hard thing. I hope no coach, no team, no player ever goes through that experience.” 

While there were some thoughts of a mid-season return for Urbani, it never came to fruition, so preparing for the 2019-20 season became the main goal. He has felt great since, and was able to make his first start for the Golden Griffins in October for an exhibition matchup against the United States U18 National Development Team, and started again for the Griffs in their first game against Union on November first. 

Large said that getting Urbani back is a huge relief. 

“It really feels like the tale of two seasons. Last year our lack of depth and injuries made it a really tough year for our team, specifically goaltenders, but now I believe we maybe have the deepest team in net.” Large also said he is “very comfortable” with the depth and quality of the team’s goaltenders.

For Urbani, he is now focused on producing this year for the team. Because of the redshirt season, he is eligible to play graduate at Canisius or any other school he can attend next season, if he wishes to do so. “It’s in the back of my head, but I want to get as many games in before Christmas and hopefully to the end of the year.” 

There is always a worry of future complications, but that is not what is on Urbani’s mind. “There’s been no issues and no complications, I have a big staff rooting for me with the team, and even students here at the college. The teachers have been pushing me to do the best that I can, and I just want to go out there and play hockey. You are so worried about your health that you make hockey second, and my life is in a great spot so I can worry about hockey now.” 

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