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Rallying for coach

...hockey coming together for hockey coach in need of a kidney

by Derek Jory @NoJoryous / Vancouver Canucks

Long story short: Stephen Gillis needs a kidney transplant.

Short story long: Stephen Gillis needs a kidney transplant and the hockey world is rallying around him to make it happen.

This story was brought to the Canucks attention thanks to an email from Cory Dobson, whose son has been coached by Gillis for the past two seasons, playing for a Vancouver Minor Hockey Association Peewee A2 team.

In terms of positive coaching attributes, Gillis has them all: passionate, positive role model, tireless worker, punctual, respectful and always smiling. But Gillis had been keeping a secret from his team.

"His positive approach is particularly impressive when you realize the struggle that he has gone through for the last couple of seasons," explained Dobson. "Stephen has been battling Crohn's disease, and while that has been something he has had to deal with, he recently found himself in the hospital in the summer where he was informed he would need a kidney transplant."

Gillis told his coaching staff about his illness, and Dobson reached out to the Canucks in hopes of lifting his spirits. Alex Oxenham, Canucks Senior Director of Community Partnerships and Executive Director of the Canucks for Kids Fund, brought Gillis out to a game day skate, where he worked with assistant coaches Nolan Baumgartner and Manny Malhotra learning what it takes to prepare an NHL practice.

"I watched video with Manny and talked a lot with Nolan - we talked shop like we were peers," beamed Gillis. "Travis came in saying a bunch of stuff I probably can't repeat about who to scratch and line-changes, it was great. It was the best day of my life."

The Canucks invited Gillis and his coaching staff to attend Vancouver's game against the Nashville Predators later that night, and as luck would have it, Gillis and company were seated a row behind their team captain Jordan Stewart and his mother Janette Stoeken. Gillis explained he was there as part of his special day with the Canucks because of his illness.

That was the first anyone outside of Gillis' coaching staff had heard of coach being sick. Word has since spread like wildfire.

Gillis, living with 9% kidney function, is on a five-year waitlist for a kidney, but was told he could look for a match on his own to cut down his wait time. Initially he was going to make a selfie video ("I'll cut your lawn if you give me a kidney!"), but after his team found out, they made their own video, one that took Gillis' need for a kidney all the way to Don Cherry on Coach's Corner.

Sunday was Minor Hockey Night at Rogers Arena when the Canucks hosted the Florida Panthers, so the Canucks invited Gillis and his team to the game. He took the opportunity to surprise his team about the game making a video of his own.

Tweet from @hometownhockey_: What���s better than 🍦? A trip to the #FLAvsVAN game! Coach @stephengillis surprises his @vanminorpwa2 team with a trip to the @rogersarena for tonight���s @Canucks game! We hope you���re all having a blast! pic.twitter.com/Z3B5ebkEE2

Gillis was also asked to share his story during the 2nd intermission of Sunday's game, in hopes a match can be found sooner rather than later.

Video: Stephen Gillis Discusses Importance of Donations

"It's been amazing, I'm speechless," said Gillis, of the media attention. "I've been making fun of myself, calling myself the crying coach because I'm usually crying in interviews. My whole coaching philosophy is making not only good players, but great people. I wanted to teach them about giving back and that they can make a difference in their communities. They took that message and are now trying to give me the gift of life.

"Today I tried to get it across to them that with all the attention we're getting, we're raising awareness for kidney disease as a whole, so they're not just saving my life, they're helping countless others."

To be tested to be a kidney donor for Gillis, contact transplant coordinator Renee Katter at 1-855-875-5182 or email kidneydonornurse@vch.ca.

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