For 11-year-old Carter Holmes, hockey is everything.
As practice began to wrap up on Friday at the United Center, Holmes was coaxed off the bench by Head Coach Jeremy Colliton and some of the Blackhawks players. Those tentative steps onto the United Center ice were Holmes' first since being cleared to do so a day before.
It was a celebratory return to the game he loves, with a little help from the team he is crazy about.
Holmes was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in June. If it wasn't for hockey, Holmes may never have discovered the dark illness that was taking hold.
"Hockey is what saved him from cancer," said Carter's mother Tricia.
Carter was hit by a puck in the neck back in February. The Viroqua, WI family thought nothing of it. Their son wasn't sick, there were no side effects. There was nothing to indicate he'd need to seek medical attention.
When the lump and bruising from the impact of the puck did not go away the rest of spring and into summer, Carter went to see a doctor. After testing, the diagnosis shook the family.
"Had he not get hit by a puck… that's what saved his life," said Tricia. "They would not have known he had cancer because he wasn't sick. He wasn't losing weight. He was never sick."
His last hockey tournament came on June 26, just four days before the diagnosis. His team took first place.
Since then, it's been an uphill climb for Carter to get back to hockey. The smile on his face as he posed for pictures with captain Jonathan Toews and then Patrick Kane showed the reward for all his efforts.
Carter was invited to join the Blackhawks for Friday's morning skate as part of a partnership with Make-A-Wish Illinois. He will also perform the ceremonial puck drop prior to Sunday's Hockey Fights Cancer game against the Minnesota Wild.
It would be an even more happy experience should the Blackhawks win, affording Carter bragging rights over his teammates back home.
"They're all Wild fans up there, so he said 'oh, my 'Hawks better not let me down,'" said Tricia. "He's the lone Blackhawks fan in the group of Wild."
Carter's teammates have been a major source of support for him through the toughest of times.
"During his chemo treatments never once was he alone because his entire team came with him," his mother said, emotions showing in her eyes. "They sat there 10 hours, eight hours, they sat through everything. Every chemo, he never was alone."
And now, even for just a few days, Carter has a new group of teammates lending their support - even if Carter's first order of business was to supplant a Blackhawks legend.
"He stole my number, so I'm going to have to think of something new," said Kane.
"I'm kind of worried about my spot on the half-wall on the power play. He was throwing [Brent Seabrook] nice passes there, laying them pretty flat, and had a pretty good shot out there. It was fun to have Carter out there."
Carter honored his favorite player by wearing No. 88 for the occasion. Kane spent a fair amount of time chatting with his jersey twin on the ice.
"When you come out in the 88 jersey, it's always pretty special to see the kids with 88 jerseys on," said Kane. "That's always pretty special to see."
"He is a huge, huge Blackhawks fan and Patrick Kane, of course, is his all-time favorite," said Carter's mother. "He wants to be just like Patrick Kane. Everything is Patrick Kane.
"When he was first diagnosed with cancer, his biggest fear was no more hockey, which is his life. To be out there with guys skating is everything to him."
Carter went from panic over losing his connection to the sport he loved to months later skating with his biggest hockey idol. For a child who usually has to be dragged out of bed, Carter was flying around this particular morning, driven by his excitement for the day ahead.
"Obviously, he was really excited to be out there," said Colliton. "It was nice to have him. He had a quick [conversation] with everyone and he told me his favorite player was Kaner. I made sure I told a couple guys that, so they know. He'll be here on Sunday, so that's awesome. It means a lot to the guys, of course. Almost everyone has been affected by it, as far as cancer goes. It was nice to have him out there and hopefully, he enjoyed himself."
While the family watched and encouraged Carter as he skated around, the moment stirred emotions in the Blackhawks players as well.
"It's pretty special, I think," said Kane. "Sometimes, you're just playing hockey and worrying about the business aspect of it. Then days like today you kind of take a step back and realize there are more important things out there in this world."
Second-year forward Nick Schmaltz was also happy to see the positive impact Carter had on the team and they had on him.
"It's awesome," he said. "It's always cool with those kids out here. It kind of makes you realize how fortunate we are. He's a great kid, he looked like he was having a lot of fun, so it's great to see him smile. I think he was a little bit in shock just to be out here. It's a tribute to the Blackhawks. They always do these things for the community and do these foundations for these kids. It was a lot of fun and hopefully we can do more of that and help more and more kids."
"I think anytime you can make a positive impact, you want to do it," said Colliton. "I think we've got a group of guys who that's how they are. From everything I've seen, even from afar… this is an organization and a group of players that want to give back, they want to make people feel good, so they'll continue to."