By: Luke Devoe
Michael Nichols is a 17 year old senior out of Monroe Township, NJ. He's just like many of you skating around frozen sheets here in the Nutmeg State. Like many of you he probably yucks it up with the boys in the locker room, on the bus. He probably skates hard, probably never misses a chance to go into the corner and battle. He probably appreciates the game like many of you do and would do anything for it. But heading into Saturday's game against Vernon (NJ) he probably thought he'd be able to skate and play the game he loves for quite some time. Now, the senior alternate captain is being told there's a chance he'll never be able to walk again, let alone skate. After already notching a goal and a pair of helpers, Nichols, in pursuit of a bounding puck, was hit from behind and crashed headfirst into the boards. He laid motionless, unable to move his extremities. Poignantly, he spoke to his father on the ice and told him "I was the best player on the ice tonight." His father responded with "You were son." Nichols is stable but his future is unknown. We're all too familiar with this story here in Connecticut. I won't go into great detail on this story because, well, the New Haven Register's Chris Hunn did a much more eloquent job when he wrote this, but, Notre Dame-West Haven senior Anthony Iovene was playing in a fall league game at the SoNo Ice House in Norwalk back in September. The defenseman, only a year and a half removed from a state championship, tripped over a player's skate, his head colliding with an opponent's knee. Like Nichols, Iovene couldn't move. He, too, was rushed to the hospital. Iovene was given a similar, unknown prognosis but has since responded well to treatment and is able to walk, though his high school career is over. For Nichols sake, let's hope his road to recovery winds a similar path. When asked about the Nichols injury, Iovene had a few heartfelt comments. "If I could talk to him I'd tell him to never give up or get down, with an accident like this, attitude is everything. You could never give up no matter what. Always keep your spirits high." Without even knowing it, Nichols echoed Iovene's sentiment shortly after being stabilized telling his father, "Dad, that ice that I couldn't get up from the other night, I'm going back to it, I'm going to stand up on it." The resolve, resiliency and unbridled heart that both of these young men exhibited in the direst of circumstances is truly remarkable.
So why write this? NBC New York was the first to report on this story. Clearly, their following is larger than mine. Well, there's a couple reasons one that, ideally, lasts long after you've read this and another that, hopefully, causes immediate reaction.
It's been incredible covering Connecticut High School Hockey for the past three seasons. I've seen some pretty awesome things on the ice, read some hilarious things in the Twittersphere and seen first hand the brotherhood that is forged when you put together a bunch of kids, a stick, and a disc of vulcanized rubber. The first reason for this article is a plea. A plea to every player, regardless of top line or JV, grinders and danglers, stone wall backstops or down right sieves, all of you, never take this game for granted. People have written about this more poetically, people who've seen a lot more of the game than I have. But, from my usual perch I have seen miraculous things. I've seen pure exuberation and ultimate joy simply by playing a game. Ask Anthony, ask Michael, it could be gone in a second. I ache for them. Their stories eat at any person that has a competitive bone in their body. If I can ask one thing from each player on the 58 teams that I cover, never step on to the ice without thinking of them, without thinking of what life would be like without the game that you hold near and dear.
The second reason is in response to a request. Earlier today, a local hockey mom reached out to me on Twitter looking for support in helping the #prayformikey cause. The hashtag has taken off in the northeast and should. This was a kid just like all of you players out there reading this. This Trumbull mom, Jen Guttman thinks we can all help in a very simple way and she's come up with a hashtag of her own, #50/50formikey. In parternship with CT HS Hockey, she proposes that at each rink this week the commonplace 50/50 raffles go to Mikey, his mother Christine and his father Steven. So, booster club parents, rink managers, cheer squads, this is a call to you. Jen is looking to help and so am I. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org. We don't really know if this will help but it certainly couldn't hurt. Join together as hockey fans, fans of life and fans of determination to support this young man in his quest to get back on that ice.