Family: Hockey coach dies from traumatic brain injury after falling at practice

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A local hockey coach has died after he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a fall during practice last month, family confirmed.

On Nov. 26, Coach Harv Graczyk of St. Michael was coaching pee wee hockey when he caught a groove and dropped backwards. He split his head open on the ice and wasn’t moving.

“It’s just that it happens that quickly,” said Blake Graczyk, Harv's son. “You don’t think of it happening to you and when it does, it can be catastrophic like it is in this case. It happens in a blink of an eye.”

12 years ago, U.S.A. Hockey made it mandatory that coaches wear helmets. This year, they upped the penalty to a mandatory 30-day suspension.

Graczyk, like so many coaches, follows that rule but doesn’t snap his chin strap. When he fell, his helmet fell off on the way to the ice.

The family posted on the GoFundMe page Saturday, writing "With heavy hearts we say that our beloved Harold Graczyk has passed away. If there is a test for Angelhood, he surely aced it and is in good hands now. Heaven is lucky to have such a kind, supportive and generous man." 

Josh Opiola, a friend of Graczyk, said "Harv" will be sorely missed. 

"There's probably always one person like this in all of Minnesota hockey, in each association," he said. "We had Harv, and Harv was our go-to guy no matter what." 

He went on to call his friend, "caring," and "compassionate and a "true friend of hockey and a true friend of youth sports." 

"It hit home a little harder knowing we've all taken a spill, but to have something like this, so tragic happen, it breaks my heart. It just does," Opiola said. 

In addition to his friends, one of Graczyk's former players also explained what made "Harv" great. 

"He was hard on the ice. He pushed you hard and all, but off the ice, he was always there for you," said Joshua Damon. "He was such a great guy." 

The Graczyk released a statement Sunday:

We are deeply saddened to announce the sudden passing of Harv. He had a unique way of touching many lives. He was a very generous and hard working person. He was caring and compassionate towards his family, friends and community. All of which was guided by his Catholic faith. His legacy will forever live on.