By James Schugel, WCCO-TV

— For the first time, a Twin Cities hockey coach is talking about a frightening fall that he says nearly killed him. Now, he hopes his experience will serve as a lesson for all coaches.

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Last Valentine’s Day, Buck Kochevar was coaching the playoffs-bound Lakeville North girls varsity hockey team when he fell and hit his head.

“I either hit an edge or a groove in the ice,” Kochevar said in an interview Wednesday. “My feet got tangled up. I was actually airborne till over halfway, and then I just went straight down.”

Kochevar, who wasn’t wearing his helmet, ended up with a traumatic brain injury.

Rich Schrick, the assistant coach, heard Kochevar fall.

“It was a loud boom,” recalled Schrick. “Like something hitting hard wood and I turned around and said, ‘What was that?’ And there he is, sliding.”

Players stayed calm, wrapped Kochevar in coats and called 911. Paramedics rushed him to one hospital and then airlifted him to another for surgery. He fractured his skull and broke four bones.

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Kochevar says that crash landing changed his life.

“There could be more of these types of accidents, and I’m here to spread the word to wear helmets,” said Kochevar. “A lot of things I took for granted that I’m not going to take for granted anymore, like wearing a helmet.”

Kochevar now wishes other hockey coaches would do what he didn’t do.

“The bottom line is I’m so happy he’s alive,” Schrick said. “I will tell you that it was the scariest thing that I’ve ever been a part of and I will wear a helmet without a doubt.”

Kochevar is now working with therapists on everything from balance to throwing a ball. At Park Nicollet Clinic in Burnsville, speech therapists are helping him think better and quicker, too.

“This community is just unbelievable. I’m lucky to have all these people who took care of me,” Kochevar said. “I’m more thankful now than ever.”

Kochevar will be back teaching fourth grade and coaching his team again next fall.

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When he starts coaching, he’ll have to stay on the sidelines and do it from there, because he can’t skate for a year.