Pre-season hockey isn't meaningless to everyone.
To the players, coaches, most fans and just about everyone else on the planet, Vancouver Canucks pre-season hockey carries little weight.
This year it came and went in a flash and even though the Canucks finished 7-0-2 and displayed the come-from-behind skills of a stealth ninja, it was still only pre-season play.
To Cole Rutter, the pre-season meant more than most of us could ever comprehend. One game in particular was like game seven of the Stanley Cup Final in September.
On September 23, Cole, a 13-year-old with an infectious smile and a vivacious personality, and his mother Carol were part of a sell-out crowd at GM Place that witnessed Vancouver overcome a 2-0 first period deficit en route to a 4-3 shootout win over the San Jose Sharks.
Having been to a handful of Canucks games already, this wasn’t Cole’s first kick at the can. This was, however, the teenager’s first time as a quadriplegic.
Cole was just like any other able-bodied youngster on Sept. 8, 2008; he was bubbling with curiosity and filled with energy to no end. In the spirit of fun, he mounted his ATV and took off like a shooting star.
The family farm in Abbotsford, BC made for a perfect venue, complete with a jump that Cole had blazed over countless times before. Something went wrong on this attempt though and the quad hit something, flipped over and rifled Cole onto a nearby cement block.
The collision was so severe Cole lost his helmet upon impact.
“He was just riding a quad in the yard, with a helmet on, and he went on a little lift,” said Carol, fighting back tears as she replayed the event.
“He turned the quad the wrong way or something and he ends up paralyzed from the neck down and on a ventilator. It was terrible, that was the worst thing imaginable.”
Unbelievably, this isn’t the first time Cole has been in this situation.
When Cole was five-years-old he suffered from Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disorder where part of the peripheral nervous system is attacked by the body's immune system.
Despite being paralyzed from the neck down and requiring a ventilator, with a slim chance of recovery, Cole beat the odds and overcame his ailment.
Last September, he was back in the same boat. Over the past year Cole has already built up enough strength to ditch the ventilator and he’s now working with the amazing staff at the GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre, BC’s largest rehabilitation centre, looking for even more progress.
It’s a long and arduous battle, one that Cole is faced with every day. That makes what Canucks season ticket holder Jordan Cripps did so much more important.
Through the Canucks Tickets for Kids program, which gives Canucks season ticket holders the opportunity to donate tickets that they cannot use to local children's charities, Cripps donated a pair of tickets to the San Jose game. The magical tickets made their way to GF Strong and eventually to Cole.
Tamara Maxim, Cole’s teacher in the GF Strong AYA Program, got to deliver the enthusiastic Canucks fan the great news.
“Cole could hardly believe that he was going to the game, he was all smiles and really excited,” said Tamara.
“I tricked him, saying it was too bad he wouldn't be able to watch the San Jose game on TV, because he would be too busy going to the game!”
In fear of getting his favourite Canucks jersey dirty, Cole didn’t put it on until right before he headed out for the game.
Boys will be boys though and Cole did get his sweater mucked up – or so it appeared.
After watching Roberto Luongo sink the Sharks in the shootout, Cole made his way down to the lower level at GM Place, right past security and into his personal heaven.
Cole took in all the excitement that follows a Canucks win from right outside the team dressing room before a few players stopped to visit.
Ryan Kesler, Steve Bernier, Alex Burrows, Mason Raymond and Luongo all ensured this night would be one that Cole will never forget.
“I met Roberto when I was in the Children’s Hospital, but I don’t remember it,” said Cole. “I’ll remember it this time.
“This was great, really special. Not every kid gets to do this.”
The autographs on his jersey will make it hard to forget. They’ll serve as an endless reminder that for as much as he’s there for the Vancouver Canucks, the team and its superstars are also there for him.
If you’re a season ticket holder who can’t attend a game and would like to make a difference to a child like Cole, please consider donating your tickets to the Canucks Tickets for Kids program.
Donated tickets will be passed on to one of our specially selected children’s charities. The Canucks for Kids Fund will issue a charitable tax receipt for the value of the donated tickets. Click here for more information.