A senior forward who led his team in scoring last season, Matt Sorisho already had the attention and respect of his teammate at Detroit Catholic Central High School.
Now, in the wake of great adversity and a daunting challenge, he has the attention and respect of the entire hockey community.
Sorisho was competing for a Michigan all-star team Oct. 4 when he lost his balance going full-speed toward the opposing net and spun into the boards. He fell and sustained fractures to the T10, T11 and T12 thoracic vertebra in his spine, injuries that have left him paralyzed from the waist down. His T12 was so badly fractured that it required two rods and three screws to fix.
As a student at Catholic Central, Sorisho and his teammates had been educated under the school motto: "Teach me goodness, discipline and knowledge." So it hardly was a surprise that Sorisho's teammates all descended on the hospital while their friend was in the operating room.
"The school rallied around him," Sorisho's father, Jim, said. "It's like a brotherhood. It's an all-boys school and they were the first to come out. Everybody else has helped us. People bringing meals and supporting Matt and coming to see Matt and staying late. You should have seen how many people were there the day he had the surgery. It was a seven-hour procedure and people just sat around to have a shoulder to lean on."
It wasn't long before the surrounding hockey community started taking notice of Matt Sorisho and wanted to help.
Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, whose son, Mike Jr., skated on a line with Sorisho at Catholic Central last season, has been a regular visitor with his family. Just days after Sorisho suffered the injury Phoenix Coyotes forward David Moss paid him a visit. A former student at Catholic Central, Moss reportedly had wanted to wear Sorisho's jersey during warm-ups prior to the Coyotes' game at Joe Louis Arena against the Red Wings. In the end, Moss hung Sorisho's jersey in the background during his post-game interviews.
In the ensuing days, tributes to Sorisho poured in on Twitter. Players like Gabriel Landeskog, Jack Johnson, Ryan Johansen, Michael Del Zotto, Brent Burns and Matt Duchene sent their best wishes. Even Jack Jablonski, who was paralyzed as a Minnesota high school player in 2011, sent Sorisho a message.
"You're an inspiration to me and I know we're both going to get through this and back on the ice someday," Sorisho replied to Jablonski in a tweet.
And that's just where things got started.
In a matter of days a number of fundraising events were held by Catholic Central and other organizations. The all-boys high school, whose students are required to wear a uniform each day, were allowed a special "jeans day" in which students were allowed to wear jeans in exchange for a donation to Sorisho's injury fund. That raised over $10,000, according to the Sorisho family.
"There's a lot of fund-raising activities going on. Things are happening that even we don't know about," said Matt's uncle, Eric Fox. "We Google his name every day and find out other things people are doing to help that we had no idea was going on."
The Muskegon Lumberjacks of the United States Hockey League have jumped into the fray, committing to raise funds for Sorisho's rehabilitation. Fox set up a donations page on the fund-raising website GiveForward.com that already has raised over $35,000. He also has set up a companion page on Facebook to help people learn how they can help.
"It's just incredible the support that we've gotten," Fox told NHL.com. "We've received donations from Calgary, Toronto, San Jose. People that may or may not know the family. It's just incredible what's going on."
As remarkable as the amount of money that has been raised in such a short time, the funds are needed. The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, an organization founded by the late actor, who was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident in 1995, estimates that the expenses associated with recovering from Sorisho's injury can cost more than $499,000 in the first year, and more than $66,000 every year after that.
Fortunately the Reeve Foundation and the Jack Jablonski Fund have been in touch with the Sorishos and have offered their help. It's all part of an overwhelming response that the family finds unsurprising but overwhelming.
"Matt's 17 years old and he started [playing hockey] at 6," Jim Sorisho told NHL.com. "So it's been 11 years. Hockey is a very tight-knit community and they come from everywhere. There are people lining up to do things for us. You know what? It helps. It's huge. I'm not going to lie to you. The first day or so my wife and I couldn't breathe. I don't know how else to describe it. Our world came crashing down. But these kinds of people help lift you. It made a huge difference."
That vital support from across the hockey world still is coming. And the Sorishos will appreciate every bit of it on Matt's road back from his injury.
"We're just so motivated to help Matt. It's going to be different. Matt's going to be on a different road. No doubt about it," Jim Sorisho said. "It's a big process for him. He's going to be there. He's going to fight. Just like he did with hockey."
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