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Josh and the Dream Factory

Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey is helping brighten the day of some very deserving children through a partnership with a local charity

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com

It's a quiet Friday afternoon at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.

Winnipeg Jets players are walking around in the hallway near the dressing room, finishing an off-ice workout, preparing sticks for the game the next night, and getting treatment for nagging bumps and bruises that add up so ruthlessly over the 82-game grind.

But no matter what they're doing, no matter how busy they are, they all stop to say hi to a family of four from Winnipeg.

Video: Josh and the Dream Factory

Included in that family is 11-year-old Ethan Brydges. It's his dream to be in this very spot, even if he won't say it out loud. You see, he's a little shy around big groups of people.

His parents, Alan and Myra, along with his 14-year-old sister, Julia, know he's having the time of his life.

"Ethan was born autistic. Of course, we didn't find that out a few years into his life. That's something that he's struggled with his whole life," Alan said.

"Just being able to be this close to the players, like right up to him and actually have them talk to him, shake his hand, or fist bump... Just that close interaction will be very meaningful for him."

Ethan's dream was to follow the Jets on a road trip, but in September of 2015, this day seemed incredibly far away.

That's when a routine MRI - something Ethan often gets due to his autism - was anything but.

"They found a tumor that was all wrapped around his left optic nerve, and was also pushing on the brain," Alan said. "We started chemo treatments in Dec. of 2015 when he was nine. It's been ongoing now for the last two years. He's been on chemo. The first round of treatments was 68 weeks, so once a week for 68 weeks."

After that round of chemo, the tumor had shrunk.

But Oct. 2017 brought more bad news.

The tumor started growing again, meaning more chemo treatments for Ethan. This time every other week, and no timeline on how long they'll be required.

"It was really hard to get the MRI results that the tumor had grown. You don't know what it means at the time, what your life is going to look like," said Ethan's mother, Myra. "You just know it's going to change a lot. There's been some really hard times. But Ethan is a tough guy. The only school he's missed is going to doctor's appointments and chemo appointments.

"He's had a great attitude about it. Our community, his school has been really supportive, he has great friends at school. It's been tough, but we've had people supporting us."

Two groups that have been supporting the family are CancerCare Manitoba and 'The Dream Factory' - a charitable organization 'dedicated to fulfilling dreams for kids who are battling life-threatening illnesses.'

It was through them that Ethan's dream came true.

He and his family were introduced to the team on Dec. 2 following practice at Bell MTS Place. The next night, they were in attendance as the Jets shut out the Ottawa Senators 5-0. Just a few days later, they were on a plane to Florida to watch the Jets and Panthers face off at BB&T Center, before wrapping up the trip on Saturday night as the Jets took on the Lightning.

Part of the experience was meeting Josh Morrissey, who took over as a Dream Factory ambassador when Andrew Ladd was traded two years ago.

"You get to meet an amazing family, an amazing kid and sister. With Ethan, with all the kids you see, you see this youthful energy. When you're around kids, they're just so pure and honest," Morrissey said. "Just that happiness level, and you see the awe walking around the locker room or meeting favourite players, or watching practice, things like that.

"When you get to see the kids and families enjoy a practice, or have that smile and that excitement, it definitely makes it pretty special."

Morrissey spent part of the trip showing the Brydges family around the dressing room, and introducing them to the players on the team.

The connection to those players runs deep. Alan has been a Jets fan since he was a kid, and it was this version of the team that brought levity to a scary incident involving Ethan's chemo in November of 2016.

Ethan's 'portacath' - an implanted device used to administer chemotherapy into his system - has a catheter that runs close to his heart. By fluke, that catheter broke, and his natural blood flow started pulling that broken catheter toward his heart.

Millimeters separated Ethan from serious heart damage or arrest, and he was quickly brought to the Health Sciences Centre to be constantly monitored.

"They hooked up every machine to him that we could imagine," said Alan. "They had a nurse sitting outside his door 24/7 while we were waiting for the surgery to take the catheter out."

That night, Alan was in bed with his son, and the Jets happened to be playing the Dallas Stars. A couple of minutes into watching, the Jets scored their first of eight goals that night.

"He got excited, and the heart alarm would go off and a nurse would come running into the room, check his vitals and make sure everything was okay," Alan recalled. "A couple minutes later, the Jets would score again, and back into the room the nurse came running. I think it was at goal five, I finally just told the nurse, 'It's okay. I think he's just excited because the Jets are scoring all these goals.'

"It didn't stop her from coming in for the rest of the goals, too, but it just gave us a moment of comic relief during a time that was quite stressful and difficult."

Patrik Laine had a hat trick that night in an 8-2 Jets win. Now, just over a year later, Ethan was meeting Laine and taking photos with just one of the players that he'd watched so many times.

"It was cool to see Patrik Laine signing my son's jersey and then getting a picture with him afterwards," said Myra. "Even Blake Wheeler came out with a stick, and I got pictures with him and the stick. That was really cool. They were just great. If we asked for pictures, they were more than willing to do it.

"For him to meet all the players, it's a dream come true for him. As a mom, it's great to see your child getting their wish come true. You dream and imagine these things, and suddenly they're coming true right in front of you, and just to see him being able to experience that is quite meaningful."

While Ethan may not have said much during his dream trip, his family says he hasn't needed to use his words to be a pillar of strength for them during a difficult time.

"He just has an unbelievable attitude," said Alan. "He's never complained, never once asked for anything to stop. He just knows that he has to do this, and he goes and does it.

"That part has been amazing.

- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com

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