The Make-A-Wish New Jersey chapter helps grant wishes to sick children all over the Garden State. (Photo / Courtesy of the Make-A-Wish New Jersey Facebook Page)
For the past 12 years all Steven Schapiro has known was hockey. Spending afternoons and early mornings at the rink working on his defensive game and then nights battling to help his team earn the win. Hockey was life, until this summer when he was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer.
Instead of letting the diagnosis defeat him, he used hockey as motivation to beat the cancer. At first, Steven thought that it could have been the end of the road for his hockey career but in fact, it was just another test. No different then the defensive drills that his coaches had been throwing at him all his life.
|As part of his wish Steven, pictured with Adam Henrique, got to meet with members of the Devils after their March 26 practice. (Photo / Prudential Center) |
“To make yourself better as a hockey player you need to work hard and mean business. So when I was going through my treatments, that’s what stuck with me,” Steven said. “You have to do what you have to do, it’s not so much hard work … but just like hockey it’s mental. You’ve got to be mentally tough, physically tough, and that’s the same for my situation.”
His battle with cancer pushed him to his limits, but he continued to push back. Whenever he wasn’t in chemotherapy, he was at the rink with his teammates. Whether he could physically lace up his skates or just watch from the bench, all that mattered was that he was there, breathing in the cold air, watching his teammates move the frozen puck along the ice.
“He loves to play hockey and the game he loves basically saved his life. Just for him to go back out there and be physical and be able to stay out there and recover the way he did is phenomenal,” Steven’s father, EJ Schapiro said. “I don’t know if I could have done it to be honest with you. He’s a very positive kid day-by-day and you know, he lives life to the fullest and takes nothing for granted.”
Less than a year after the cancer diagnosis Steven was cleared to get back with his team and not only skate, but compete in games. As captain he was just getting back to the place where he rightfully belonged.
“I always knew he’d get back into it, but I never thought he’d be able to play like he did prior to being diagnosed and going through treatment,” his mother Cheryl Schapiro said while waiting for the Devils/Coyotes game to begin. “So his determination and treatment and focus was hockey … and that’s what he had to look forward to. To see him get back on the ice and play like he used to just blew me away. He’s an incredible kid, more so than I ever knew.”
“It’s like being away from home, when you leave your family for weeks and months at a time you miss them and it’s the same getting back on the ice with your team,” described Steven, of his chance to get back and skate with St. Joseph’s.
|Steven, with Eric Gelinas and Travis Zajac, got to pick up tips for his own game by watching the team's practice in preparation for their game against the Coyotes. (Photo / Prudential Center) |
Now just weeks after the high school season has ended Steven is still getting opportunities to skate. On Wednesday March 26, the New Jersey Devils teamed up with Make-A-Wish New Jersey to make Steven’s wish come true.
His wish? To get back on to the ice, this time with his favorite professional team, the New Jersey Devils. On March 26, Steven and his parents traveled to Prudential Center and got to watch team practice in preparation for their Thursday night matchup against the Coyotes.
After practice he got to meet with the players and coaches before heading out on to the ice himself to skate with Devils alumni Bruce Driver and Jimmy Dowd.
“It’s kind of surreal. You see all the TV shows and stuff like and that you don’t think much of it, but when you’re there you don’t realize how fast they’re actually moving,” Steven said with a huge smile on his face. “[Things like this are] kind of unheard of. I know they do stuff with season ticket holders, but to be one-on-one is pretty awesome.”
Skating with the team alumni allowed Steven to pick up pointers like covering the opponent and positioning from fellow defenseman, Bruce Driver as well as the players he watched out on the ice. One thing he took away from it was seeing the Devils work on the little things in the game, and that’s what he was looking forward to seeing the next night at the Rock.
Watching from a far in the practice rink and the night of the game were Steven’s parents. Throughout this entire experience the one thing they noticed was the smile that never left their son’s face.
“He’s back. It’s just great to see a smile, he always smiled, a positive attitude and a smile and to see that smile makes me happy and that’s all that matters … [His smile] didn’t stop all day. Not only were they good to him, they were extremely good to all of us. We really have to thank the Devils for that, [they did] a phenomenal job,” EJ said looking over at Steven just a few seats down.
Things have been looking up for Steven in the months since getting back onto the ice. He has a new job and continues to get stronger while working to get his game back to where it was prior to the cancer diagnosis in August and this wish will help him with that goal.
For more, head to NJ Youth Hockey Central.