Skip to Main Content
NHL Insider

Matthews, Bissonnette, NHL make ailing Maple Leafs fan's dream come true

Ron Ruckstuhl, battling Lewy Body dementia, gets VIP treatment, center's stick in Toronto

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

NHL First Timer: Ron Ruckstuhl

Matthews, Bissonnette and the NHL surprise sick fan

Auston Matthews, Paul Bissonnette and the NHL help to make a dream come true for Ron Ruckstuhl, who was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia

  • 09:15 •

TORONTO -- Ron Ruckstuhl sported the type of grin normally exhibited by a little kid on Christmas morning, not a 52-year-old man fighting for his life.

He can thank Auston Matthews, Paul Bissonnette and the NHL for that.

The grin came after Matthews presented Ruckstuhl with a stick about 45 minutes after scoring the winning goal in the Toronto Maple Leafs' 3-1 victory against the Los Angeles Kings at Scotiabank Arena on Nov. 5. Matthews had used that same stick to score the game-winner, and he wanted the brave visitor to the Maple Leafs dressing room to have it.

"Unbelievable," Ruckstuhl said, his voice cracking with emotion.

Standing off to the side, Ruckstuhl's son Josh savored the moment.

"I've never seen my dad ever smile like this," Josh Ruckstuhl said. "That's the best gift he ever could have received.

"For him, it was always his dream to see a game in Toronto."

Ron Ruckstuhl was diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia four years ago. Lewy bodies are abnormal aggregations of protein in the brain, contributing to Parkinson's disease and other disorders.

Josh Ruckstuhl, who is 28, was serving in the military at the time of his father's diagnosis and withdrew about a year and a half ago to become his primary caregiver. All the while, he searched for the perfect way to give his dad a once-in-a-lifetime experience in whatever time he had left.

That's where Bissonnette, a former NHL player, and the League got involved. Josh reached out to him via a direct message on twitter in August to see if he if he could help.

"Hello @BizNasty2Point0 my father is diagnosed with Lewy bodies. He turned 52 this year. We don't know how many more we have left. He's a life long Leafs fan. His dream is to see a game [in Toronto] before he cant remember. I hate to ask but we want to see his dream come true," the tweet said.

"I got a reply from [Bissonnette] in September," Josh said. "From there, the ball just grew into this. I never would have thought the NHL could have done this."

When Bissonnette received Josh's tweet, he thought it would be a perfect story to be documented via NHL First Timer, the web series he hosts. NHL First Timer is a behind-the-scenes look at people from all walks of life, including athletes, models and underprivileged children, who attend their first NHL games with Bissonnette and receive VIP treatment.

Bissonnette contacted the NHL, which put the visit together.

The video showcasing Ron's special day at the Maple Leafs game was released Wednesday, which is World Kindness Day.

"It's unfortunate what Ron's family is going through," Bissonnette said Tuesday. "We thought what a great thing this would be to take their minds off what they're going through for 48 hours and give their kids a memory they can savor.

"I really think the dad was happy to spend time with his kids in that environment too."

The trip began on Nov. 4 in St. Andrew's, New Brunswick, where the Ruckstuhls live.

"I went to do some errands," Ron said. "I came home and (Bissonnette) was sitting in my living room. There were all these big lights going. I thought either my wife had hired a professional photographer to do family pictures again because I was sick or something else."

It proved to be something else, all right.

"It was really good," Ron agreed.

With Bissonnette and the camera crew accompanying them, Ron, with sons Josh and Ryan, who is 24, flew to Toronto for the game against the Kings. The NHL set up the family in a private box so Ron could get the VIP treatment.

When Matthews scored to give the Maple Leafs a 2-1 lead, Ron let out a loud whoop. Josh and Ryan grabbed their dad by the shoulders and gently helped him to his feet so he could cheer with the rest of the capacity crowd.

"He gave my dad the best experience he could have ever hoped for," Josh said of Bissonnette. 

After the game, the family made its way to the dressing room, where Bissonnette had arranged some surprises for Ron. First came a visit with Toronto defenseman Tyson Barrie, then a chat with Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan.

Then came Matthews, wearing a stylish hat on his head and a huge grin on his face.

"It's always rewarding meeting someone like that and helping to make him smile," Matthews said.

As Ron and his sons prepared to leave Scotiabank Arena on what had been the most special of days, Toronto coach Mike Babcock came by to shake his hand. More photos were taken.

Asked what the highlight of his experience was, Ron broke out into a wide grin.

"The win," he said. "And Auston giving me his stick.

"The entire experience has been incredible. I couldn't have expected what the NHL has done. Paul is amazing. And I have the best kids on the planet.

"I wouldn't have expected anything else from Josh. He has the biggest heart in the world."

View More