On Friday, March 22, the New Jersey Devils and Prudential Center hosted the Fifth Annual Mikey Strong Charity Hockey Game presented by M&M'S in partnership with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation and WFAN. Mikey Nichols was injured during a high school hockey game in January 2014 where he fractured his C5 vertebrae and became paralyzed. After his accident, he visited WFAN studios where he met with WFAN Morning Show Host Boomer Esiason and told him "I will walk again". The annual event raises funds to the Nichols Family Trust Fund and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation to benefit spinal cord research and quality-of-life initiatives.
"This is the fifth year," Nichols explained. "In the first four years we've raised over $300,000 dollars for spinal cord injury research; that's a huge benchmark. I'm hoping we reach over $400,000 after this year. This injury has taught me to open my eyes and open my mind. I like to use a quote, 'Can you see with your mind and think with your eyes?' I see things and the world today - when you go to New York for example, all the cabs are very difficult for me. As a person that wasn't in a wheelchair before, I never would have seen that, so now that I see it, I have to think about what I want for the rest of the world for the future. The first 17 years of my life I lived for passion, and the last five years I've lived for purpose. And my purpose is to create a world without wheel chairs. If you asked me, 'Are you ever content?' I'll be content when I'm the last person in a wheelchair. When everyone else is out, that's when I'll be content."
"We've known Mikey Nichols for a while," Daneyko said prior to taking the ice. "He's a local hero around here and he's done so much for spinal cord research, and we obviously knew of the Reeve Foundation. So, this became a great event to give back a little and give what we can, with fans who come and support us and alumni teams participating along the way. It's fun to get back on the ice for a great cause. I hope we get a great turn-out and a lot of support. It's great to see the whole hockey community come together for a wonderful event."
Prior to puck drop, Nichols visited the star-studded locker rooms at Prudential Center to talk to the players. In Team Reeve's locker room, he talked to former Devils players such as Bryce Salvador, Ken Daneyko, Bruce Driver and Mike Rupp, as well as 2018-19 Riveters Michelle "Shelly" Picard and Kelsey Koelzer. In Team Boomer's locker room, he chatted with former New York Jet and WFAN's Boomer Esiason, former Ranger Alexei Kovalev, and former Islanders Rick DiPietro and Darius Kaparitis.
"I've seen the game the last couple of years and wanted to be a part of it, and it worked out," former Devil and current NHL Network Analyst Mike Rupp said. "It's awesome getting back in here, with the guys, for a great cause, and meeting Mikey was special. Just getting out here on the ice with my team, Team Reeve, and be with a ton of my former teammates. It's good to be in that locker room again, that's probably the biggest thing you miss. I love seeing the fans come out here; it's cool when you can rally around something like hockey to make a difference."
Also in attendance for the event was former National Women's Hockey League Boston Pride player, Denna Laing. Laing suffered a similar injury during the 2016 Outdoor Women's Classic, the first outdoor professional women's hockey game. She was with Nichols in the locker room and was able to catch up with former rival Picard prior to the game.
"This is my third year playing in the game, first year with another teammate with Kelsey (Koelzer)," Picard explained before the event. "We are so excited; the game is always a blast and obviously super excited to play for such a great cause and Mikey Nichols; it has been great to be able to see him. Denna is here this year and I played hockey with her in High School and we played against each other when we were growing up. We were rivals, bitter rivals. She was an absolute competitor, she was so fierce out there, you couldn't steal the puck from her. One of the hardest players to play against, but so much fun and then we got to play together in High School, a lot better that way."
The teams took part in player introductions prior to Nichols coming out to address the crowd. He talked about how the event has grown and how much it means to him. He was joined by current Devil and New Jersey native Kenny Agostino, as well as Laing. Nichols and Laing participated in a ceremonial puck drop to kick off the event.
"I'd like to thank all the players for being here and everyone supporting Mikey and supporting the Reeve Foundation," Laing explained. "It's obviously really important to us. Everyone comes from all over the place on a Friday. This is the fifth year so, let's keep it rolling. It's really important to us and we really appreciate it."
In the end, it was Team Boomer who walked away with a 7-5 victory, marking their fourth win over the five games played.
In the end, however, it's not about the final score of the game but about the impact fans can make by simply attending a hockey game.
"Hosting this event is an opportunity for us to shine a spotlight on Mike and his determination to be the last person in a wheelchair," Senior Vice President, Government Relations Jim Leonard said about the event. "Together with the Reeve Foundation and WFAN, we're honored to use Prudential Center as the host for such a worthwhile endeavor."
To learn more about the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, visit christopherreeve.org, or follow them on Twitter and Instagram at @ReeveFoundation. To follow Mike Nichols on Twitter and Instagram, fans can find him at @M_Nichs. To stay up-to-date on all Devils-related news, follow the team on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @NJDevils.