Wells has been a Kings fan for 10 years, and much of that credit goes to his girlfriend, Jennifer Morgan, who believed it was imperative to establish his hockey loyalties from the beginning of their relationship.
“I could not survive being in a relationship with a non-hockey fan, or a non-Kings fan for that matter,” said Morgan, a fan of the Kings since the age of nine.
It wasn’t an arm-twisting situation, as Wells came from a hockey-loving family, and his grandfather, who was originally from Detroit, became a fan of the Kings in 1967 when Los Angeles was awarded an expansion team.
In 2010 Wells began growing his first playoff beard in accordance with the Kings’ first playoff appearance in eight years.
“I knew I could grow a good beard to rival even some of the Kings players,” said Wells, who, until this year, never participated in the Beard-A-Thon.
Early this April, with the Kings heading into the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, Wells began experiencing severe recurring migraines, which he at first attributed to diet changes, work stress, and adjustments to a new eyeglass prescription. One of the worst migraines came on May 6, when Wells and Morgan had tickets to Game 4 of the Kings Quarterfinal match up with the St. Louis Blues.
Not only did Wells miss what Morgan describes as “one for the history books of home game comebacks,” but later that week his vision started to double. This prompted Wells to seek medical attention.
An optometrist discovered swelling in Wells’ optic nerves, which led to a visit to an ophthalmologist, a neurologist, and finally a MRI followed by more tests, which revealed Wells had a 3.5 centimeter tumor impacting his ventricular system and optical nerves.
Emergency brain surgery was necessary.
On May 17, the morning after the Kings’ dramatic, come-from-behind victory against the San Jose Sharks in Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals, Wells has successful surgery to remove the majority of the mass.
Perhaps the most stressful part of the ordeal for Wells was requesting to every doctor, nurse, resident, and assistant who may or may not have some small part in his surgery that they not shave his playoff beard. Shaving his head was fine, if necessary, but the beard absolutely had to stay.
And stay it did.
“It was important to keep the beard because the Kings are still in the play-offs, looking to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions,” said Wells. “What was really cool about the doctors was that one of them understood the play-off beard.”
Morgan echoed her boyfriend’s sentiments.
“Its tradition. So what that he needed brain surgery? It's the playoffs. Matt would not be kept from doing what he could for the LA Kings. It worked last year,” said Morgan, referring to the Kings’ 2012 Stanley Cup Championship.
“This is a pretty intense time in our lives, but it does not define us.”
Although Wells has made great progress during his recovery, his vision has returned to normal, and most of the headaches have subsided, Wells will still require additional surgery to remove the rest of the mass, and radiation treatments will likely follow.
For now, however, Wells is regaining strength while reveling in another Kings playoff run that has seen them to the Western Conference Final for the second consecutive year.
Physical therapy appointments are taken during the day so that Wells may make it home in time for the start of every game, which he watches with Morgan by his side.
The playoff beard that became so iconic during Wells’ surgery is still growing strong, and Wells is proud to be participating in the Beard-A-Thon for the first time, using his beard to raise money for charity. So proud, in fact, that he created a ‘team name’ of sorts, for all his Beard-A-Thon supporters, complete with a logo, which he personalizes and sends to each of his donors as a ‘thank you’ for their support.
“Through all my medical procedures I have felt very confident that everything will end up fine in the end,” said Wells. “I hope that people who see my story will see that you really don't need to worry about everything.”
“I have found that if you worry about something and let it cause you even a little stress, it will cause your health to deteriorate at a faster rate.”
The optimism, strength, and fearlessness Wells has exhibited, along with his playoff beard humor, are what compelled Morgan to reach out to CENERGY, the company behind the Beard-A-Thon initiative, with his story.
“He faced brain surgery with a quiet resolve that could only inspire everyone around him to have courage. I was brave because he would not be anything but. When he had confidence in his team of nurses and doctors, I had faith in them,” Morgan said.
“Matt let go of all the worries that were out of his immediate control and I could only do my best to follow his example.”
Now, thanks to a hockey playoff tradition and a passion for the LA Kings, Morgan shouldn’t be the only one following his lead.
*To participate in the Beard-A-Thon or donate to Wells or another beard grower, please visit LAKings.com/beardathon. All proceeds benefit the Kings Care Foundation.*