Cole Borchardt grew up down the block from Brock Boeser in Burnsville, Minnesota. The inseparable hockey crazed kids learned, developed and sharpened their skills together.
Were it not for a life-altering accident, they might be battling each other in the NHL today.
On August 6, 2014, four of Boeser's good friends were in an SUV that lost control and rolled, killing Ty Alyea, an old baseball teammate. Three others, Matthew Berger, Tylan Procko and Borchardt, sustained varying injuries, the worst suffered by Borchardt, who was told he'd never walk or talk again.
Monday afternoon in Detroit, Borchardt, aided by a cane, walked down the hallway at the Detroit Red Wings practice facility and gave Boeser a huge hug, telling his friend how much he misses him.
From requiring emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his brain, facing shattered shoulders, a torn ACL, injured spleen and broken wrist, to embracing his lifelong friend.
"That's the type of guy Cole is, he's always pushed to overcome obstacles," said Boeser, proudly. "The belief within the friends and family was that he'd be able to recover somewhat, and once he talked for the first time, that gave us all hope. He's doing amazing."
Boeser was in Slovakia preparing to play for USA at the 2014 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup when the accident happened. Had he been at home, hanging out with his boys during the dog days of summer, he likely would have been with them. Boeser never takes that for granted.
Written on the four sides of the knob of his sticks is as follows: 8.6.14 TA 6, CB 20, TP 7 MB 31, and Gma2 Gp2 6 with a cross. The date of the incident and initials of all four friends involved are always with Boeser, as are his four grandparents, three of which have passed away. The number 6 appears twice because it was Ty's number and because his dad, Duke, wore 6 when he played as well. Duke, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2010, was involved in a separate car accident when Boeser was a high school freshman, suffering a brain injury. Thankfully he survived the ordeal.
During Borchardt's visit to the Canucks dressing room Monday, he and his mother Heidi saw Cole's initials CB and his number 20 on Boeser's stick for the first time. "That's pretty amazing," said Cole. It was a special moment for the Borchardts and Boeser, who then showed them his stall.
Video: Boeser Gives Friend Locker Room Tour
Borchardt was surprised how nice the room was, and also that Boeser still uses black tape on the blade of his stick. Borchardt prefers white and teased Boeser about it. The fleeting moment was over in a heartbeat, but it meant the world to Heidi Borchardt.
"Seeing Cole tease him about his tape, that really took me back," smiled Heidi. "Then seeing what Brock puts on his sticks, that's really special. He mentioned he was doing that when Cole was in the hospital, so it's pretty cool. I'm so proud of him.
"It's been more than four years since the accident, so a lot of Cole's old friends have graduated from college and stuff like that, and you lose touch. So to still have such a good friend, especially one this elite in the NHL, really caring and making this special for Cole, that's very touching."
Before the accident, Boeser and Borchardt played together with Burnsville High, Team Southeast and Burnsville High "A" over two seasons, with Borchardt raking up 99 points to Boeser's 89. The two were always on the same line and Boeser described Borchardt as "a special talent."
"He was unreal," boasted Boeser. "He was one of the most skilled players I grew up playing with, he easily would have went to play Division 1 if the accident wouldn't have happened."
The Borchardts now live in Saline, Michigan, a city near Ann Arbor, roughly 45 minutes east of Detroit. They moved from Burnsville a few months ago to be closer to medical professionals helping Cole with his recovery. Reconstructive surgeries to further aid his mobility are in his future, as is (hopefully) a few years at the University of Michigan.
Cole doesn't have a future in the NHL, but his future is filled with immense potential in whatever avenue he chooses.
"He's so sharp and so smart, so there's something out there for him," said Heidi. "He's an incredible kid with a very positive attitude and a lot of it is because of the support he's had from the hockey community, family, and friends like Brock."