For fans of this great game, there may be no bigger moment than getting the chance to meet your hockey hero in person, face to face.
Shaelin Earle got to have that moment—times two—when he was a guest of the Anaheim Ducks this week as the team traveled to Boston to take on the Bruins.
A self-proclaimed sports fanatic, Shaelin lives just 25 miles north of the sports-crazed city of Boston but has a penchant for following teams from outside of the region.
His hockey devotion reaches all the way to the west coast, and his loyalties lie with Corey Perry, Cam Fowler and the Anaheim Ducks.
“I like their style, the way they play,” said Shaelin of Perry and Fowler.
So when Shaelin, who has cystic fibrosis, was given the opportunity to have a wish granted through Make-A-Wish, an organization that grants wishes for children with life-threatening medical conditions, he wanted nothing more than to meet Perry and Fowler in Anaheim.
Make-A-Wish Massachusetts and Rhode Island teamed up with Make-A-Wish Orange County and the Inland Empire, along with the Anaheim Ducks, to put together an experience that would allow Shaelin to meet his favorite team and his hockey heroes, but the trip came up against an unexpected snag.
As he and his parents, Randy and Jeanne Earle, traveled west last November to watch the Ducks face the Kings at Honda Center, the team was just beginning to deal with players who had contracted the mumps, including Perry.
This kept Shaelin from being able to interact with the players while in Anaheim, but the experience continued for the Earle family, as they watched the team practice alongside Anaheim Ducks alumni, George Parros. The former enforcer took Shaelin to lunch at SoCal favorite, In-N-Out Burger, and presented him with an Xbox, Surface tablet and Ducks jersey signed by the team. Shaelin and his parents were also there to cheer on the Ducks as they took down their cross-town rivals in a shootout thriller, defeating the Kings 6-5.
Game day in Boston started early for Shaelin as he rode with Perry and Fowler from the team’s hotel to TD Garden to watch as the Ducks took the ice for their morning skate.
When Shaelin arrived in the dressing room, there was a locker set up for him situated between Perry and Matt Beleskey that included his own jersey and nameplate. And the entire team embraced the 14-year old, as different players spent time talking to the young fan throughout the morning, giving him signed sticks, gloves, his own helmet and plenty of fist bumps.
Shaelin watched from the bench, quiet, but wide-eyed and grateful, as both the Bruins and the Ducks took turns on the ice for their pre-game skate.
“This has been so cool,” said Shaelin.
“Athletes inspire him,” said Jeanne Earle. “He goes through so much for his treatment, so for him to get to meet these players in person, is just wonderful. Over the last two weeks, it’s all he could talk about.”
A life-threatening illness, cystic fibrosis requires Shaelin to spend many hours a day treating the disease, including wearing a respiratory vest, receiving intravenous antibiotics and taking several medications.
But Shaelin doesn’t let the disease slow him down. The eighth grader plays several sports including soccer, cross-country and lacrosse, and uses his natural speed to make a difference on the field.
“He’s fearless,” said Randy Earle. “That’s why he likes hockey and that’s what helps him deal with CF so well. He’s just fearless.”
Director of Wish Program, Lauren Cotter, from Make-A-Wish Massachusetts and Rhode Island, was impressed with the lengths the Ducks organization went to as they helped make this wish come true for Shaelin.
“It was the Ducks who put this together,” said Cotter. “They really got behind this and put together a great experience for Shaelin.”
The day didn’t end after the morning practices, as Shaelin and his family returned to TD Garden that night to see the Ducks and the Bruins face off for a critical two points. Shaelin cheered on his favorite team and even had the chance to spend some time in the television broadcast booth with Ducks broadcasters John Ahlers and Brian Hayward.
The “Comeback Kids” didn’t disappoint. Down 2-1 with less than a minute remaining in regulation, Perry tied it up with 38.5 seconds left. Ducks Captain Ryan Getzlaf finished the comeback, scoring in overtime to secure the 3-2 victory.
After the game, the players welcomed their special guest of the day into the room as Perry presented Shaelin with the Fireman Hat, which is presented to the player of the game after each Ducks win.
“What did you think of the win? Did you cheer loud when we scored those goals?” Fowler asked Shaelin. “You’re our good luck charm, buddy.”
“When you see these guys on TV all the time, it’s almost like they aren’t real,” said Randy Earle of his son’s experience. “But to get to meet them in person and have all of these players pay attention to you? It does a world of good for him.”
**Bottom photo courtesy of the Anaheim Ducks