Goaltender Bryan Warnecke of the Arapahoe Warriors hockey team and the rest of his teammates were in for quite the surprise during their practice at Family Sports Center in Centennial, Colo., on Thursday afternoon. As the team hit the ice to begin their warmup, they were joined by two new faces: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Jan Hejda and rookie forward Dennis Everberg.
“It was absolutely amazing. I can’t put into words how much fun it was to be on the ice with those guys,” Warnecke said. “They were both extremely generous with the puck while shooting against me, and I loved to see that.”
Warnecke, 16, first connected with the Avs eight years ago as one of the children from Children's Hospital Colorado Foundation selected to participate in the annual Avalanche Charity Brunch and Fashion Show
As an infant, he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening genetic disease that primarily affects the lungs and digestive system.
Despite completing multiple breathing treatments every day in order to stay healthy, Warnecke's interest in hockey has never waned since he began playing at a very young age.
“When I was two and half years old, the guys in the cul-de-sac behind my house always played pickup games of roller hockey,” he said. “So I would do everything I could to get over there and sit on top of the fence and watch them.
“They used to carry me on their shoulders while they played and eventually I just started playing with them. I’ve been playing ever since, and I just love the game.”
Hejda was able to recognize Bryan’s strength and positive attitude during their practice together, and he enjoyed spending time on the ice with the rest of Bryan’s teammates as well.
“It was awesome,” Hejda said. “This is a tough situation for him, but he was very confident directing the players on the ice.
“I was asking the other guys how their season was going, and they said they’re going to be in the playoffs. I think a huge part of this team is their goalie Bryan. He was very good on the ice and very confident.”
Despite being professional hockey players, both Hejda and Everberg tried to stay away from giving the young team too much advice and instead focused on just having fun.
“I just introduced myself and told them I was never drafted into the NHL,” Everberg said. “I’m 23 years old and they’re 15, so their dream is still alive and they should keep working hard.
“I remember when I was that age. You look up to your idols, and I hope it was a good experience for them.”
Hejda added: “I wished them good luck, and I told them to keep working hard. They didn’t ask me too many questions and same thing with the coaches. I wasn’t telling them what to do. We all just wanted to have fun.”
Bryan continues to work hard every day to prove to others he can still play the game he loves even though he is living with cystic fibrosis.
When asked what keeps him motivated to keep playing hockey, Bryan said, “Just the fact that I know there are other kids out there doing 10 times worse than I am. I like to get out here to prove to everybody that I’m still just as healthy as everyone else, and I can put forth just as much effort as everyone else.
“And because I just absolutely love playing hockey.”