OK, would you believe I have ZERO time to write a Blog today? So I've elected to copy & paste a story I read a few weeks back on the TSN website. The story was called "Remembering Wheels" by TSN columnist James Duthie, and I thought most of you probably haven't read it, so I wanted to share it with you. Get your Kleenex box handy for this one, folks...
2/20/2007 11:35:56 PM
If you could watch one hockey player, past or present, play a game, who would it be?
Gretzky at 21? Orr with knees scar-free? The Rocket, at his angry, eyes blazing best? Crosby, right now?
I'm often asked that question. And I was never sure of the answer. Until now.
It is none of the above.
If I could watch one player lace up the skates and play a game, I would choose a skinny left-winger from Guelph, Ontario.
A player who moved so fast, they called him Wheels.
A terrific hockey mind who, by the age of 10, had already patented his own move: carrying the puck swiftly into the opposing zone, then spinning around and sending it back to his point man, leading to countless chances for his team.
A leader, so popular in the room, a former coach says when he walked in for practise, there would be a chorus of "Sit here! Sit next to me!"
A coach's dream, always shining his shoes to make sure he looked proper when he arrived at the rink. And so obsessed with being on time, he wore a digital watch with a face big enough to dwarf his little arms.
An offensive dynamo who scored 12 goals in one 7-game span this season, amazing considering he always preferred being a playmaker.
A natural athlete who was also a whiz at soccer, football, track, and pretty much everything he tried.
An always smiling charmer who, even when he tried to boast, couldn't help but turn it into a joke.
"I'm the best athlete in my school," he once said. "Then again, my school is really small."
A kid who lived and breathed hockey from the second he woke 'til the moment he hit the pillow, exhausted after playing hours a day.
But here's the rub.
This hockey player I'd love to see play again...
I never saw him play.
Everything I know about him comes from the stories I've been told over the past week by teammates, coaches, friends, and family.
His name was Nicholas Lambden.
Two Sundays ago, he was doing something every one of us who has played outdoor pick-up hockey has done hundreds of times: digging for a puck in the snow. A shot from a nearby game struck him in the head.
It was a freak, million to one accident. And it killed him.
Nick was 10 years-old.
Last Friday, the Guelph Atom AA Junior Storm should have been excitedly preparing for the next round of their playoffs. Instead, they were walking up the aisle of a church, past the coffin with their teammate's #12 sweater draped over it, laying their sticks next to Nick's.
Later, they'd talk about how happy he'd been after scoring the tying goal late in what would be a thrilling OT win that past Saturday. His last game.
Nick loved hockey. Loved the Leafs. Worshipped Mats Sundin (Though Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin were right up there too).
He dreamed of being just like them. Of someday being talked about on TSN. Consider it done, Wheels.
I thank all of his friends for sharing their memories.
But each new gut-wrenching phone call, each heart-breaking email that pops up in the inbox, makes me wish I could have met Nick, and watched him play the game he loved so much.
And makes me curse the fact I never will.
Our thoughts remain with Nicholas's mother Susan, father Andrew, and sister Madison. This week Nick's team will resume their playoffs wearing black armbands with the #12 on them. They also hope to spread the message that everyone who plays outdoor hockey should always wear a helmet. Always.
James Duthie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.