The Columbus Blue Jackets
may have acquired just the inspiration they need in their quest to earn their first playoff berth in franchise history
And while 19-year-old defenseman and cancer patient Ryan Salmons will never suit up for the team, he'll no doubt provide all the motivation the Jackets might need to fulfill their obligation to the fans of Columbus.
In April 2008, Salmons was diagnosed with alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of cancer that attacks muscle tissue. When Columbus General Manager Scott Howson and the Blue Jackets Foundation -- a charity that includes pediatric cancer research and treatment -- learned of Salmons' condition and his fight, they made a point to sign him up for the stretch run.
To the surprise of Salmons, Howson visited his home in Grove City Wednesday and extended an offer to the former hockey player -- a one-day contract that includes a $3 signing bonus.
"It was pretty neat," Salmons told Tom Reed of The Columbus Dispatch. "The curtain window (in the living room) was open and I saw Manny (Malhotra) and Jason (Chimera) coming to the door. It really caught me off guard. But what really surprised me was to see Scotty (Howson). He presented me with the contract. It's really amazing."
In addition to an hour-long visit from Malhotra, Chimera and Howson, Columbus radio announcer George Matthews, Foundation Executive Director Wendy Bradshaw and the team's mascot, Stinger, were also present at the big signing.
"If it wasn't for them, I don't think Ryan would be here today," Ryan's father, Brad, told The Dispatch. "It's really one of the things he has been holding on to. He wants to go to a Blue Jackets' playoff game."
"He's been in the locker room about 4 or 5 times after games and, even though he's going through tough times, he always has a smile on his face. He's such an inspiration and he's a good friend and it's good to see him come into the dressing room. He's one of the boys and it's a pretty cool thing."
-- Jason Chimera
Ryan was given jersey No. 3, which is actually the number worn by defenseman Marc Methot
. A mock news release announcing the contract was also given to the family. In the release, Methot gave Salmons permission to wear his jersey.
"I typically wouldn't give up my number, but it is a small price to add a player like Ryan to our team," Methot said in the release.
Donning the No. 3 jersey was especially sweet to Salmons.
"I have always liked the number three because I'm a big NASCAR fan and Dale Earnhardt fan and the number goes back a long time for me,'' Salmons told ESPN First Take.
For Chimera and the rest of the Blue Jacket players, having Salmons in and around the locker room has been fantastic.
"He's been in the locker room about 4 or 5 times after games and, even though he's going through tough times, he always has a smile on his face," Chimera said. "He's such an inspiration and he's a good friend and it's good to see him come into the dressing room. He's one of the boys and it's a pretty cool thing."
According to The Dispatch, Salmons first came into contact with the Blue Jackets last spring when he was introduced to forward Dan Fritsche
at Nationwide Children's Hospital. At the time, Fritsche was at the hospital visiting patients. Since that time, Salmons has been invited to several Blue Jackets games and functions.
Chimera, who has been sidelined with a lower-body injury, has been at Salmons bedside for much of the past two weeks. It was reported that Salmons, a graduate of Hilliard Davidson High School, has lost more than 20 pounds from his once stout 170-pound frame since being diagnosed. But despite the fact he's had to take up to 113 pills each week while fighting balance and dexterity issues, he's become an advocate in the fight against cancer.
"Right now, it's a tough time," Salmons told The Dispatch. "They have given me a steroid to keep down the swelling on my brain. It's caused some problems and made me more emotional. But we'll figure it out.''
Chimera is confident he will.
"Ryan has such a zest for life," Chimera said. "It's gotten to the point where I want to see him as much as I can and I've told my wife that. Anyone who can endure what he's had to endure and do it with a smile, is really special."
Now that one wish has come true, Salmons has high hopes that another will be fulfilled real soon when and if the Blue Jackets can qualify for the playoffs -- the club is currently sixth in the Western Conference with 85 points.
"I'm hanging on for them and pushing all I can because I've been waiting nine seasons for this," Salmons said. "I believe we'll get it this season and we'll see a playoff run."