It was an emotional night in Cornwall.

Injured Smiths Falls hockey player Neil Doef made his return to the ice for the first time since damaging his spinal chord in an international tournament in Saskatchewan.  Doef received a standing ovation as he rolled his wheelchair onto the ice for the puck drop Friday evening at the Eastern Canadian Junior A Championships.

An upbeat Doef spoke with CTV before his first public appearance, and then smiled warmly and appeared to soak up the moment as the crowd  stood and cheered.

His parents call him their hero. He says they have been his backbone throughout the ordeal and  an arduous stint in rehab.  It's a process that has produced results.  Doef says he now has some movement in his legs.  He can stand and even walk with help for very brief periods.  Something doctors told his family might never occur immediately following his injury.

Doef had planned on attending Princeton on an athletic scholarship prior to his injury.  His plans haven't changed.  He says the university is honouring that scholarship and he will attend in 2016.

Meantime the family has used some of the funds raised by a supportive community to move into a new accessible house that better suits his current needs.